Hong Kong needs hope to quell emigration concern
After a jump in the number of people moving to Canada, the government must instil confidence in society to avoid a repeat of pre-handover uncertainties
If a city’s well-being is built on people’s confidence in its development and a deep sense of belonging, the rise in the number of Hongkongers emigrating to Canada in recent years does not bode well for the future. Although the scale is nowhere near the exodus seen before the handover, it is nonetheless a cause for concern. In what was described as the biggest influx since reunification with the mainland, Canada saw a total of 1,210 Hongkongers become permanent residents last year, compared with the 630 and 585 recorded in 2015 and 2014 respectively. This was a significant rise from the annual range of a few dozen to a few hundred soon after 1997.
Without more detailed analysis, it may be premature to attribute the surge to any particular reason. Emigration, after all, is not something to be decided lightly. The decision is often made after weighing carefully the pros and cons of living in two places. But if the story of a 34-year-old woman who emigrated to Toronto last year is any reference, it would seem that the prevailing political situation played a significant part in her decision. While citing the usual factors such as work pressure and an oppressive education system as the reasons to quit, she admitted that the Occupy protests had prompted her to make up her mind. Whoever was at the helm could not make the city a better place, she said.
The case is probably not the only one. According to a study by think tank Civic Exchange last year, seven in 10 people found the city a worse place to live in, referring to the perceived deterioration in most aspects of governance and quality of life in recent years. When given the chance, 40 per cent said they would emigrate.
The findings also echo research by Chinese University, which showed more than 10 per cent of those who intended to leave had already made plans to do so.
Hong Kong has always been a free and open society, with people moving in and out in search of better opportunities. We have also put in place various immigration schemes to attract the well-off and capable from overseas. Compared to the annual tens of thousands of emigrants to Canada in the run-up to reunification, the latest trend does not ring alarm bells, yet. It will nonetheless become a cause for concern if more people quit in search of a better life.
No place can afford a brain drain stemming from dissatisfaction and despair. Amid growing challenges facing the city, the last thing we need is to relive the uncertainties arising from mass emigration before 1997. It is good to see that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is working hard to address people’s aspirations. It is incumbent upon the new government to instil hope and confidence in the future of the city.