AUSTRALIA's recession and massive unemployment are driving increasing numbers of Australians to look for work in Asia, particularly Hongkong and Singapore. Although there has been a rise in the number of Australian-born residents emigrating during times of high unemployment in the past, most went to the traditional destinations of New Zealand, Britain and the United States. This time, several thousand have opted for Asia instead, a recent report by the Bureau of Immigration Research found. Although the traditional destinations remained the top three for emigrating Australians, in the year to June 30, 1992, 1,035 of the 29,122 emigrants from Australia went to Hongkong, the fourth largest destination. Of those, 466 were Australian-born. Singapore was the sixth most popular destination, with 566 emigrants attracted, and Malaysia, the 11th largest destination, attracted 381 emigrants. ''During times of high unemployment the emigration of Australian-born is higher,'' bureau statistician Mr David Ward said. ''But now the numbers going to Hongkong and Singapore have increased a lot. In the past they were very small, almost negligible.'' Australia has been one of the premier destinations for Hongkong migrants, though numbers have fallen of in recent years. Officials at the Australian Consulate said they had issued 40 per cent fewer visas last year compared to 1991. They issued 9,505 visas last year compared to 16,209 the previous year. The author of a study commissioned by the bureau, Professor Graeme Hugo, professor of geography at the University of Adelaide, said many of those leaving Australia were not unemployed but going to better jobs, as Australia turned increasingly to Asia inits business links. He said Hongkong was the most popular Asian destination for Australians leaving permanently. A large proportion of those leaving long-term but intending to return headed for Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. ''It tends to be looked at as negative with Asians going back and well-educated Australians leaving, but I think there is another side: these people are keeping links with Australia and should provide opportunities for Australia to become more embedded in these expanding Asian economies,'' Professor Hugo said. ''Also if we have people who have spent long periods of time in Asian countries it helps cultural awareness, it's not just a brain drain.'' The number of Australians leaving permanently has increased by 50 per cent since the late 1980s. In 1987-88 20,471 left, compared with 31,130 in 1990-91 and 29,122 in the past financial year.