THE number of Hong Kong people emigrating overseas is set to fall below 60,000 for the first time in four years. Deputy Secretary for Security Keith Kwok Ka-keung said the estimated number of Hong Kong citizens emigrating would be much lower than last year's peak of 66,000. The number of people leaving soared after June 4, 1989, when the figures went from 42,000 to 62,000 in 1990 and 60,000 in 1991. The number of applications for a certificate of no criminal conviction also points to a downward trend in migration. The certificate is requested by prospective migrants to prove they have no previous conviction record, a condition some overseas countries impose on migrants. Up to October this year, there were 48,720 applications for the certificate, compared with 62,945 and 59,076 in the same period in 1991 and 1992 respectively. Mr Kwok said it was hard to determine why fewer people wanted to go to other countries, but the strong economy in Hong Kong could be one of the reasons. He said Hong Kong's economy remained strong while other countries were still in recession. ''Hong Kong also plays a very important role in the rapid economic development in southern China and the territory also benefits from the development,'' he said. Mr Kwok said that at least 12 per cent of those who emigrated between 1982 and last year had returned to Hong Kong. However, he did not know why emigrants decided to come back. ''It's hard to tell who came back to settle down in Hong Kong again or who just came back for a holiday,'' he said. The major factor affecting people's decision to emigrate was the performance of the local economy rather than the political situation. ''Those who are worried about the Hong Kong's political future have already left many years ago,'' he said. He did not see any big impact on the level of emigration by the recent political row between the British and Chinese governments over the territory's political reform. Professor Wong Siu-lun, professor of sociology at the University of Hong Kong, echoed Mr Kwok's view that the territory's political situation was not a major factor behind people's decision to leave. ''If people find that it's easier to get a job in Hong Kong than in other countries, they'll be more likely to stay. ''They'll probably consider other long-term factors, such as the long-term political stability in China, instead of the degree of democracy in Hong Kong.'' Although Professor Wong did not expect the latest row between Beijing and London to have a large impact on the emigration trend, he was not sure emigration would keep dropping in the run-up to 1997.