Time to remind the world our doors are open to all

Paul Yip says Hong Kong must make it easier for skilled professionals of all races to settle here

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 2:53am

Last week, Max Fisher of The Washington Post produced an article on the world's most and least racially tolerant places. It claimed Hong Kong was ranked as one of the world's most intolerant, with 71.8 per cent of respondents saying they would not want someone of another race as a neighbour.

This news was both disturbing and surprising. Though overstretched by the 30 million or so mainland visitors every year, Hongkongers are very tolerant and accommodating. Our city is known as a place where East meets West.

Fortunately, we now know that, due to a translation error, the survey results were wrong. In fact, 26.8 per cent said they didn't want someone of another race as a neighbour, while 78 per cent of Hongkongers would have immigrants of any race as neighbours. So, we can still proudly boast that Hong Kong is open, free and hospitable.

The study did reveal that high-income countries such as the US, Australia and some in western Europe have a very low rate of intolerance, less than five per cent. Every year, these countries manage to attract skilled labour from different racial backgrounds. Nurses from the Philippines, doctors and computer professionals from India, PhD graduates and postdoctoral fellows from China and Hong Kong, for example, all supplement and enrich their pool of talent.

And if these migrants don't find a country receptive, they have plenty of opportunities to find other places which are more tolerant. So we have to ensure Hong Kong is also a welcoming environment.

Certainly, the community needs to be more inclusive to attract foreign talent. With our ageing society and diminishing workforce, we can ill afford to discriminate against any person based on race or ethnicity.

Every economy is competing for young and skilled labour. Singapore, for example, has been working hard to attract foreign talent to meet its labour shortage while Australia has introduced tailor-made programmes to attract people with skills the country needs.

Therefore, Hong Kong shouldn't be satisfied even with the revised figure. Of course we have to protect the employment opportunities and working conditions of local people, but we cannot be overprotective.

We have to lower barriers for skilled professionals to work or settle here. Schooling for their children and living conditions are the two major concerns. The government needs to seriously consider how we can make ourselves more attractive to make the Hong Kong talent pool sustainable while continuously improving our quality of life.

Right now, we have to make ourselves heard, loud and clear: Hong Kong offers great hospitality and fully embraces diversity.

Paul Yip is a professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong