Call of Canada: why Hongkongers are leaving for a second time

Albert Cheng says the growing number of people who are making the move West – including a sizeable group leaving Hong Kong a second time – go in search of better opportunities, more affordable housing and better education

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 2:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 2:44pm

The Post recently reported on a 30 per cent rise in the number of Hong Kong people applying for permanent residency in Canada – from 1,206 applications in 2016 to 1,561 last year. In fact, the number has risen almost every year in the past six years.

As the emigrants are mostly well-educated middle-class professionals, we should be worried that the city is losing talent.

Are we now seeing a second wave of emigration, following the exodus in the 1980s and early 1990s, before Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997? Not quite.

But I believe we are seeing the re-emigration of the first wave of migrants – Hongkongers who left for Canada then returned to Hong Kong, but are now going back to Canada again.

An estimated 300,000 people living in Hong Kong hold Canadian passports. They include those who were born in Hong Kong to parents with Canadian citizenship.

Anecdotally, it seems, more of them are now returning to Canada. A report from two years ago estimated that at least 10 per cent of the Hong Kong Chinese diaspora are moving back to Canada. This means that at least 30,000 people are leaving, or have left, Hong Kong for Toronto and Vancouver, the two Canadian cities that draw the most Chinese immigrants.

This will definitely have an economic and social impact on both Hong Kong and Canada.

Number of Hongkongers migrating to Canada hits 20-year high

Frankly, migrating to Canada has become more difficult since the Canadian government tightened its immigration policies. For example, family reunions are now limited to spouses and children.

For parents and grandparents, a quota is set and lots are drawn every year to decide who gets the opportunity. The main reason for such a policy is the heavy burden the older migrants impose on the health care system.

Apart from family reunions, Canada’s investment immigrant programme has also been tightened. The previous government suspended the federal programme in 2014 and cut more than 50,000 applicants and their family members from the queue.

Individuals may also apply for residency. In the next three years, the Canadian government is expected to raise the quota of individual applications to 1 million. This could further attract Hong Kong people to migrate to Canada.

Doctors leaving Hong Kong in droves as emigration hits five-year high

At the same time, Hongkongers are grappling with several push factors.

Politically, the central government has been asserting its control over the special administrative region by interfering with local affairs that many feel should have been left to Hongkongers to handle. Not surprisingly, some who are alarmed by the expanding mainland influence are choosing to leave.

Would you rather be a Canadian plumber or a Hong Kong IT worker?

Economically, Hong Kong is in the grip of the property developers, and housing prices here are among the highest in the world. Most young people cannot afford to buy their own home without help from their parents. Upwards mobility is limited, and many youth are willing to leave Hong Kong to look for new opportunities in Canada.

In education, middle-class parents here increasingly aspire to send their children to international schools, which are seen as being of better quality than the local schools. However, these schools charge fees that many families cannot afford.

For the above reasons, these Hong Kong Canadian returnees are moving back to Canada for the sake of their offspring. This immigration wave is different from the one before the handover. Back then, people applied for Canadian citizenship as a safety net. But, this time, those who are leaving Hong Kong mostly do not plan to come back.

Hong Kong’s loss will be Canada’s gain. Unlike mainland Chinese emigrants, Hong Kong migrants do not drive up property prices in Toronto and Vancouver, as they tend to buy modest flats rather than high-end luxury properties.

Thus, Canada will acquire both talent and capital from Hong Kong. This will energise the Vancouver and Toronto economies, which would benefit Canada as a whole.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]