MOST people think emigrants should have to return to the territory by July 1, 1997, to keep their Hong Kong residency, a survey revealed yesterday. The Hong Kong Policy Research Institute poll found that 55.8 per cent of the population endorsed the proposal suggested by the Preliminary Working Committee. The other respondents rejected it. According to the committee, Hong Kong emigrants will lose permanent residency if they do not return to live in the territory before the handover of sovereignty. They would then be deprived of their right to vote and stand for election, although they could still live and work in Hong Kong without restriction. More than 40 per cent of the respondents said any proposal concerning the right of abode of returnees should consider the interests of both the emigrants and those who had stayed in the territory. And about half of them believed the rising number of returnees would threaten the employment prospects of those who had stayed. Dr Jane Lee Ching-yee, who carried out the survey, said that feeling might escalate in the light of the worsening employment situation in the last couple of months. 'The authorities should keep a close watch on how the population feel about the threat in the coming months,' said Ms Lee. The survey also found that quite a large number of people were ignorant about how their right of abode in Hong Kong would be affected if they had a foreign passport. Only 42.9 per cent of the respondents knew they would cease to be Chinese nationals once they got a foreign passport, while 50.2 per cent were aware that being a foreign national could jeopardise their right of abode. According to the study, as many as 699,000 of the territory's residents are foreign passport holders - 10 times more than the official estimate of 68,000. Ms Lee said the Government's estimate was too conservative and failed to take into account those who had emigrated before 1984. The study was conducted in two phases in early and mid-August when 1,318 and 1,000 people were interviewed by telephone.