Where are Hong Kongers going?

Hong Kong has faced an exodus of expats and residents in the past year, with impacts on international schools admissions in the region and further afield.

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Crackdowns and Covid-19

“After two years of hotel quarantine, endless covid tests and being separated from family, it was an easy decision to move to Singapore,” says one expat who works in finance and has recently relocated from Hong Kong.  

She is not alone. Hong Kong residents are leaving in unprecedented numbers after the territory’s chaotic handling of the covid crisis, civil unrest and the new national security laws imposed by Beijing in 2020.“It’s not only expats who are going,” says Patrick Groth, General Manager at global mobility company Santa Fe Relocation. “We have moved huge numbers of Hong Kong nationals too.”

New horizons

Hong Kong’s population fell by 1.6 per cent, or 121,500 in the year to June 2022, according to government data. This marks the third consecutive year of decline and the biggest drop in the last six decades. According to the European Chamber of Commerce, nearly 50 per cent of European companies are planning to move out.Singapore is the most popular place to relocate, especially for finance, law and recruitment. Some expats have returned to their home countries and many Hong Kong nationals have applied to the UK, Canada and Australia for residency under new visa programmes. Other relocation destinations include Dubai, Where are Hong Kongers going? and Japan.“Since January 2022 the top four destinations for relocations are Singapore, the UK, the US and Australia,” says Santa Fe’s Patrick Groth. “The UAE is in also in our top 10, which has never been the case before.”

Singapore the most favoured destination

Right now, Singapore is the number one choice: it’s family-friendly, has good schools and transport and it handled the Covid crisis well. It has also recently overtaken Hong Kong to become Asia’s top financial centre, according to the Global Financial Centers Index.Dozens of Hong Kong companies have relocated staff there including the Royal Bank of Canada, which is moving its global market sales and trading activity from Hong Kong. Citigroup has moved senior equities staff and Wells Fargo will make Singapore its Asian hub. L’Oreal, Moet Hennessy and the VF Corporation have also relocated operations.The biggest exodus to Singapore took place in March 2022, when Hong Kong locked down during its fifth wave of Covid, according to ECA International’s Lee Quane, “Whether these relocations are permanent remains to be seen,” he says.

Impact of HK influx on residential property and education in Singapore

The influx has placed pressure on Singapore’s education and housing: rents rose by 4.2 per cent in first quarter of 2022, according to Urban Development Authority, and there is increased competition for school places.“We had more applications from Hong Kong families in the first two months of 2022 than we did in all of 2021,” says Tom Evans, Director of Marketing and Communications at Tanglin Trust.Some families are already thinking about returning to Hong Kong, according to Santa Fe’s Patrick Groth: “They face serious challenges in Singapore with school places and skyrocketing housing prices.”It’s not only expats who are on the move. Immigration from Hong Kong to Canada is also booming. Data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada shows a 50 per cent increase in Hong Kong permanent residence landings and a four-fold increase in study and work permit applications, compared to before Covid. In 2021, nearly 2,300 Hong Kong people were granted permanent residence and over 10,000 Canadian work permits.

Middle East, Europe and North America

It is a similar story in the UK. In addition to expats heading home, thousands of Hong Kong nationals have also relocated, many of them skilled graduates.In January 2021 the Government launched its British National Overseas (BNO) scheme, after the introduction of the new security laws, allowing passport holders and their dependants to apply for permanent residence. So far, over 130,000 applications have been approved and the Home Office estimates that number will rise to 300,000 over the next five years.Australia has always been a population destination for Hong Kong people: there are currently around 86,000 there, a number predicted to increase after the government launched two new visa pathways to help migration this year.The number of permanent migrants settling there has tripled since China introduced its national security laws in 2020.For expats, Dubai is an increasingly popular destination. Pepsi, Unilever and Proctor and Gamble have all moved operations there. “Dubai is the real winner in all this,” says Ashwin Assomull, Partner at L.E.K Consulting.  “It has seen significant growth not only from people leaving Hong Kong, but from Europe, Ukraine, China and India. They all want to be part of this city. Super-premium school enrolments are up by between nine and 10 per cent. That tells you the kind of expats coming into Dubai.”
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