Hongkongers' negative view of mainland immigrants is underlined by a survey in which half the respondents say the number of migrants should be reduced. One academic says such attitudes could evolve dangerously into discrimination. The Institute of Education conducted random phone interviews in February with 1,024 adults about how they view mainland immigrants and found more than half - 51 per cent - thought the number allowed into Hong Kong should decrease. Just over a quarter thought the number should stay the same, and less than a fifth said it should increase. Chou Kee-lee, professor in the Department of Asian and Policy Studies at the institute, said: "This is worrisome. The sentiment needs to change. The government needs to face this problem before it gets worse." Chou said a few new immigrants who had settled in the city on one-way permits were in the survey, but they accounted for less than 10 per cent. Economic reasons played a major part in forming negative sentiments, Chou said, with a large number agreeing that new immigrants compete for economic resources. In the poll results released yesterday, more than half - 53 per cent - said new immigrants enjoyed welfare benefits, but did not contribute to society, four out of 10 said migrants both enjoyed welfare benefits and contributed to society, while only 3 per cent thought they made contributions without enjoying welfare. The view that new migrants lowered wage levels was held by almost half of those polled - 46.7 per cent - and almost four in 10 said they stole locals' jobs. Meanwhile more than a third thought a rise in new migrants would result in more crime. "The government needs to change negative public sentiment through education, and increase policies targeting specifically immigrants to help them integrate," Chou said . He said perceptions such as new immigrants stealing jobs, were on welfare or would increase the crime rate, might be unfounded. The government should clarify such urban myths. No margin of error was given for the survey.