Government must act now to prevent a brain drain in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 September, 2013, 3:16am

Is Hong Kong suffering a brain drain? The question is being asked as more citizens are said to have left for good, while fewer foreigners come to live in the city. The latest census figures seem to suggest the ebbs and flows go beyond usual fluctuations. Between mid-2012 and the middle of this year, 4,000 more people left than settled here; a similar situation pertained a year earlier. The number of emigrants rose 8 per cent year on year to 3,900 in the first six months of this year. The figure maybe a small drop in an ocean of seven million people; it is nonetheless a phenomenon that warrants closer attention.

Arguably, there is nothing wrong when people come and go. The two-way traffic has been part of a free and open city like ours. Being the gateway to mainland China means there are always foreigners who come for new opportunities; and there are locals who leave for greener pastures for various reasons. It may therefore be premature to say a brain drain is under way; and even if there is, it appears less serious than the exodus sparked by the uncertainties in the run up to the handover. However, if the trend continues, it will be a cause for concern.

That people are perhaps looking at better options elsewhere is unsurprising. As reported in this newspaper, immigration consultants and academics attribute the current outflow to the usual factors such as high living costs, worsening living environment and an oppressive education system for children.

The perception of intensifying political bickering is also said to have played a part. Admittedly, the way the city is evolving is worrying. There appears to be more confrontations than co-operation; the performance of the new government and legislature still leaves a lot to be desired. Officials are facing growing difficulties in securing support from Legco and the public. There are fears our core values and freedoms are eroding. There is, indeed, a growing sense of frustration and helplessness; and a big question weighs heavily on some people's minds - is this the Hong Kong we used to know?

It remains unclear whether another exodus is looming. Although we are nowhere near the gloom and doom forecast in the run-up to the handover, analysts say the outflow this time could be due to a perception the social and political environment is deteriorating rather than mere uncertainty. If so, the government has every reason to be concerned. Politicians also have a responsibility to ensure Hong Kong remains a good place to live. The public looks forward to their constructive suggestions rather than stunts and rhetoric.