Hong Kong national security law (NSL)
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While it is still too early to tell how many Hongkongers will seek to emigrate following adoption of the city’s new national security law, five who have made up their mind to do so spoke to the Post about their decisions. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

National security law: five Hong Kong residents on why they are seeking a new life abroad

  • No ‘exodus’ yet despite buzz over emigration following new national security law
  • Five with plans to leave say they want a better future for their children, or more freedom
Hong Kong’s new national security law, drawn up and passed by Beijing last month, sparked talk of citizens taking flight from the city.

There was an immediate buzz over a possible “exodus” of Hongkongers eager to avoid what some saw as Beijing’s tightening grip on their city, and emigration consultants reported a spike in enquiries.

Britain has made it easier for nearly 3 million Hongkongers who hold British National (Overseas) Passports and their close family members to settle there, while Australia has pledged to provide 10,000 Hongkongers on student and temporary visas a pathway to permanent residence.

Despite the talk of mass departures, analysts say it remains too early to tell how many will eventually pick up and go. Some, however, have already begun making plans. Five Hongkongers determined to leave share their reasons and their fears with the Post’s Danny Mok.

Peter (an alias), a teacher who plans to emigrate, said he was shocked that his 14-year-old daughter found it necessary to delete her Instagram account after the new national security law went into effect. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Case 1: Pushed to go, teacher says: ‘It’s a different world now’

Primary schoolteacher Peter,* 44, was astonished when his 14-year-old daughter deleted her Instagram account on July 1, hours after Hong Kong’s new national security law took effect.

Then he overheard his eight – year-old daughter checking with her older sister if she could sing along to a YouTube karaoke version of Glory to Hong Kong, the anti-government protesters’ anthem, and other songs.

Peter lamented: “They’re already self-censoring.”


He and his 46-year-old wife first began thinking about emigrating about two years ago, to give their girls better opportunities in life. But it cost too much, and they could not afford to leave Hong Kong.

Then, the British government announced its offer to BN (O) passport holders.

“Suddenly, there is this opportunity, and I want to grab it,” Peter said. He and his wife have BN (O) passports and hope to leave as soon as next year.

A university graduate with 17 years’ experience, Peter was not optimistic about getting a teaching position when they emigrate, but was prepared to take any available blue-collar job.


He said he had begun feeling the push to leave at his workplace too. The work environment at his government school had become more frustrating, with teachers made to scrutinise library books for content that might breach the national security law.

At a recent staff meeting to discuss the new law, he recalled, the principal told everyone in a high-handed manner that as civil servants, they had to be loyal, and those who did not like any assignment could resign.


“We used to talk about how to empower our students and encourage critical thinking, but all that seems to be gone,” Peter said.

Kyle Wong, a manager at his father’s air-conditioning company, struggled with his decision, but ultimately decided leaving was best for his three-year-old son and year-old daughter. Photo: Edmond So

Case 2: ‘Painful to leave, but we’re doing this for the kids’

Kyle Wong, his wife and two children will be on their way to Britain next month.


The 35-year-old filed his application to the British authorities well before all the buzz over Hongkongers leaving because of the national security law, and received clearance to go late last month.

A university graduate and project manager in his father’s air-conditioning and renovation company, he expects to start from scratch in Britain, where he has no connections.

The couple’s biggest struggle was the decision to leave family, friends and everything familiar in Hong Kong. Wong knew that if he stayed, he would probably make more money too.


“I definitely struggled, but there seemed to be no other choice for the sake of the next generation,” he said, referring to his three-year-old son and year-old daughter.

He began thinking of leaving sometime last September, as Hong Kong was embroiled in anti-government protests that began in June. He said he stood with the protesters, but grew tired of what felt like an increasingly suppressive atmosphere.

“I won’t say I’ve given up on Hong Kong, but I began to feel powerless against such a big regime,” he said.

The arrival of the national security law confirmed for him that it was time to go.

“We used to have many voices, but they’re now being narrowed to just one voice,” he said.

Ryu (an alias) said he ‘gave up the fight’ as he watched mass arrests of protesters taking place last November. He hopes to emigrate before April 2021. Photo: Handout

Case 3: A protester says: ‘I gave up the fight’

Information technology specialist Ryu*, 35, was a peaceful participant in last year’s anti-government protests until he was an eyewitness to events in Yuen Long on July 21.

That night, a mob of men dressed in white went on a rampage and attacked black-clad protesters and others viciously at the railway station in northwestern Hong Kong.

“They were despicable,” he said. After that, he admitted, he took a more violent approach at protests.

By November, however, with mass arrests of protesters taking place, he felt their efforts had failed and began thinking of leaving the city of his birth.

“I gave up the fight,” he said. “This was no longer the city I loved.”

When the national security law arrived, he decided the “one country, two systems” principle on which Hong Kong had been run since 1997 was dead, and it was time for him and his 32-year-old girlfriend, an events manager, to leave.

Both hold BN (O) passports and hope to leave Hong Kong by next April. With his master’s degree, Ryu hoped to land an IT-related job.

“I’m sacrificing my freedom and right to live here. My family is torn apart by the national security law,” he said.

Dental surgeon Jonathan Ku is ready to leave Hong Kong, despite the fact he is likely to have to restart his career at a lower level abroad. Photo: Edmond So

Case 4: ‘If you smell something wrong, leave’

This time last year, Jonathan Ku was exploring ways to expand his dental practice. He recently shelved that plan and prepared to pick up new qualifications to boost his chances of finding work in a new country.

The 33-year-old father of two said: “Much has happened in just one year, and now it appears to be a whole different world.”

He and his wife, a 36-year-old homemaker, hope to move within the next two or three years. He has a BN (O) passport, and she holds a British passport.

Their daughter, four, and son, two, are the couple’s main reason for making plans to go. “

I don’t want them to be educated in an environment where there is such a strong control over how individuals think,” Ku said.

He feels the authorities have been encroaching more and more on the freedoms Hongkongers enjoyed.

“You can see what the Chinese and Hong Kong governments are trying to do ultimately, and it’s better not to wait until they achieve it,” he said. “If you smell something wrong, you should leave.”

Settling in a new country will be a challenge, and after 10 years as a dental surgeon, Ku is resigned to the fact he may have to start over at a lower level – and earn less.

For now, his top choices are Australia or New Zealand, for job opportunities and his children’s education, with Britain as the fallback.

“I’m a bit stressed by the national security law, which has pushed me to speed up our emigration plan,” he said.

Belle (an alias) feels as though as she is on divergent paths with her boyfriend, who has no desire to leave the city. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Case 5: ‘I’ll break up with boyfriend and go’

Drama educator Belle* is so determined to leave Hong Kong that she is ready to break up with her boyfriend, who prefers to stay.

Born and raised in the city, the 28-year-old made up her mind last year to leave, saying she was unhappy with the quality of life and air pollution.

Her boyfriend of three years, a 29-year-old drama student, wants to pursue his artistic dreams in the city.

“Our life paths are not the same. It’s difficult to carry on,” she said.

Before the national security law arrived, she was already looking for working holiday schemes that would allow her to explore her options for emigration.

In May, she applied to work in Sweden and Australia, saying she was ready to leave as soon she obtained a visa. She was not considering moving to Britain, however, as she does not have a BN (O) passport.

Belle said her widowed, mainland-born mother always preferred for her to stay in Hong Kong, but after the national security law was introduced, supported her plans to leave.

“The law is written vaguely, and the more ambiguous it is, the more you have to fear, as whatever you do or say might cross the line and touch someone’s nerve,” she said.

She is aware that going away on a working holiday visa might not lead to citizenship in a new country, but said it would allow her to explore new opportunities.

“I’m a person who doesn’t need many material goods, but I need freedom and fresh air and enough living space, which I can’t have in Hong Kong,” she said.

*Names have been changed at the request of those involved