Hong Kong needs additional highly skilled immigrants from mainland as city’s population shrinks, think tank urges

Foundation report claims local labour force due to decline from 2019 based on current immigration policy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 October, 2016, 3:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 October, 2016, 11:30pm

Hong Kong should intensify its ­efforts to attract skilled immigrants, especially from the mainland, as the population will shrink by 2039 if immigration policies go unchanged, a high-profile local think tank says.

In its latest report, Our Hong Kong Foundation said local authorities should raise the quota of immigrants to alleviate social pressures caused by an ageing population and a labour shortage.

“Even Donald Trump is not against highly educated immigrants,” Professor Liu Pak-wai of Chinese University’s Institute of Global Economics and Finance, the report’s leading writer, said.

But he emphased the quota should be expanded in phases to allow the city’s infrastructure capacity to catch up. Hong Kong has the second oldest population in Asia after Japan, with 15 per cent of people aged 65 and above, according to a UN report in 2015.

Liu said such a demographic structure would cause “severe social issues” in the future as retirees tended to spend less and consume more public resources, while investment in education and technology would be hit.

The foundation, led by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, urged the government to act now, as its survey showed the population would shrink at an increasing rate from 2039 and the labour force would decline from early 2019, based on current policies.

But if Hong Kong brought in 15,000 extra immigrants a year, the population would rise modestly until 2064, with the labour force stabilising at around 3.6 million, the survey found.

Unlike the common impression of mainland immigrants being ill-educated and indigent, Liu said more skilled professionals had arrived in recent years through various talent admission schemes. These should be further expanded, he said.

Professor Shen Jianfa, chairman of Chinese University’s Department of Geography and Resources Management, said a new round of mainland immigration was unlikely to cause further stress on the city’s social welfare system as they tended to have much better career development than the last generation.

Of mainland immigrants admitted under the one-way permit scheme – 150 a day to reunite with families – the proportion with university or post-secondary degrees increased from 5 per cent in 1995, to 20.8 per cent in 2015, according to the Home Affairs Department.