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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Asia needs friendlier policies on migrants to meet skills shortage

With nationalism and protectionism on the rise in the West, Hong Kong and rival cities in the region are in a position to benefit from talented newcomers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 June, 2018, 4:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 June, 2018, 4:29am

Nationalism and a rising protectionist stance in the West are leaving increasing numbers of migrants feeling frightened and insecure. Elections in Europe giving power to far-right political parties and the anti-migrant stand of US President Donald Trump are making skilled people from China, India and elsewhere uneasy about their new homes.

Foreign student numbers are down and some talented and in-demand workers are rethinking their circumstances. Governments in Asia with ambitions to drive development through science and technology, Hong Kong among them, should be putting on their most welcoming of faces.

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Anti-migrant sentiment is being driven by political attitudes towards refugees fleeing poverty and violence in Central America, Africa and the Middle East. Trump, keeping an election pledge, has made ending the flood into the United States from across the Mexican border a priority, but has also taken a hardline position on immigration.

He scored a victory on Tuesday when the Supreme Court upheld his travel ban on those from seven nations, five of them Muslim-majority. The European Union, despite having a policy of the country where an asylum seeker lands being responsible for processing the application, is being forced to rethink its approach after the election of conservative leaders in Italy, Hungary, Poland and Austria; it will be a focus of the EU summit which opens today.

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Legitimate migration has become more difficult, with countries taking longer to process visa applications, making the criteria for qualification harder, shortening tenure, toughening renewal clauses and restricting the employability of spouses.

Xenophobic and racist rhetoric makes life uncomfortable for those already living and working in Europe, the US and Australia. The line being touted is that migrants are taking jobs and benefits, but in most cases, that is far from the truth. Immigration is generally considered to be good for a country, with evidence showing newcomers help the economy to grow and are more likely to start and own businesses than the locally born population.

Certainty and security are what migrants want and need. But with Trump getting tough and voices rising in Europe against asylum seekers, those already resident who are culturally and ethnically different are increasingly feeling ill at ease. But hostile leaders need to realise that talent is mobile.

Canada, which has liberal visa rules, does; it has a fast track approach to tech jobs that processes applications within two weeks, against six or so months in the US. Hong Kong is open to those with special skills the city needs, but is competing with Shenzhen, Singapore and others for talent. As the West becomes less welcoming, Asia’s policies must be friendlier.