U.S. expats eyeing Hong Kong exit

More than a third of US expats working in Hong Kong are considering relocating because of harsh Covid-19 lockdowns and social restrictions, according to a survey of members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (AmCham HK).

HK airlines departure gate with people passing
The Chamber's 2022 Business Sentiment Survey found that 44% of the 262 individuals and corporate representatives surveyed said they might leave Hong Kong because of the tight pandemic controls, especially border closures, dictated by Beijing's zero tolerance policies.Additionally, 26% of the companies surveyed said they could leave the former British Colony, which is now subject to a tough security law imposed by Beijing in the wake of the 2019 pro-democracy demonstrations.
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Covid clampdowns impact investment

The survey found that the Covid-19 restrictions were causing significant disruption to businesses' activities, postponing new investment and making it difficult to recruit talent.Tara Joseph, who steps down as AmCham HK's President in March, has already returned to the US after living and working in Hong Kong for the past 20 years."Even if I wanted to go back, I couldn't," she told the BBC. "I feel sad, but I'm a realist. I would love to see Hong Kong succeed."Companies are not keen to go - but for the staff there are all sorts of issues. Because they have personal lives, they have anxieties, they have families back home."One of the things that's really hurting at this point is there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel." 

Confidence dimmed

Almost 70% of respondents in the survey said their confidence in Hong Kong's rule of law had worsened over the past year, with issues such as the imprisonment of billionaire Jimmy Lai and the increasing closeness of Hong Kong's government to Beijing weighing on sentiment.However, the survey also found that many businesses remained upbeat about future prospects.The financial services sector was particularly optimistic, with almost a third of respondents saying Hong Kong had gained in regional competitiveness in wealth management over the past three years.And many expressed the view that additional business opportunities could open up as some companies and individuals leave the former colony.

Migration from Hong Kong

Any exodus, of course, is not restricted to expats. The imposition of the new security law in 2020 led to the UK government opening up the British National (Overseas) visa route last year for Hongkongers who were resident when the colony was handed back to China in 1997.The number eligible, including dependants, has been estimated at up to 5.4 million. Figures from the Home Office last month showed that over the first nine months of the BN(O) scheme, 76,176 visa approvals out of 88,800 applications had been granted.Meanwhile, other countries - in particular, Australia, Taiwan and the US - have seen significant visa applications from Hongkongers anxious to leave.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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