Nearly 60 per cent of Hong Kong youth want to emigrate if possible, a new survey has found, up from almost half three years ago. A study released on Thursday by Chinese University’s Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies also found that young people were more pessimistic about the city’s future, giving an average score of only 2.95 out of 10, down from 4.37 in 2018. Researchers believe the pessimism could be linked to uncertainties surrounding Hong Kong’s future amid the Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn, although one academic believes some young emigrants would eventually return to the city. The questionnaire commissioned by Lions Clubs, conducted between March 19 and April 8, polled about 803 respondents aged between 15 and 30. The institute last conducted a similar survey in 2018. When asked whether they wanted to emigrate if there was a chance to do so, about 57.5 per cent of those surveyed said they either “strongly want to” or “want to” do so. In the 2018 version, only around 46.8 per cent of about 800 people polled said the same. On a scale of 1 to 10 rating their level of optimism about their own future, respondents gave an average of 4.76, compared to 6.02 in 2018. In addition, more young people (90.4 per cent) believed they would not be able to buy a flat, up from about 89 per cent three years ago. There was also a lack of desire among youth to develop in Greater Bay Area cities in mainland China, with only 6.5 per cent of respondents saying their willingness to work in Hong Kong and the bay area was the same. Hong Kong faces brain drain threat as quarter of under-35s plan to leave Professor Anthony Fung Ying-him, director of Chinese University’s Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies and a professor of journalism and communication, said the figures reflected in the survey findings, including the higher number of young people wanting to emigrate, was “mostly a perception”. “Most of them are still students,” Fung said. “They [might not] have the ability at this moment to emigrate. This is more or less an impression. It might not be exactly true that in the future, they would emigrate.” Professor Stephen Chiu Wing-kai, sociology chair professor at Education University, believed some young emigrants might eventually return to Hong Kong, saying mass migrations of Hongkongers had happened before and was not a “big problem”. “Hong Kong has been a city of immigrants, while mass migrations have occurred multiple times before,” he said. “Even when [young people] moved elsewhere, they might still keep some kind of connections with the city.” But Chiu called the pessimism surrounding the city’s future alarming, and said stakeholders should look into how young voices and concerns can be heard. Last month, a study released by Youth Ideas under the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups found more than 24 per cent among 1,135 people polled aged 34 or below planned to get a job outside the city in the next five years, with top places including Britain and Australia. They warned of a potential brain drain while urging the government to act, including encouraging them to return to work in Hong Kong through offering subsidies and other incentives.