Face Off: Is Hong Kong facing a brain drain as people emigrate elsewhere?

  • Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a showdown that does not necessarily reflect their personal viewpoints
  • This time, they discuss whether Hong Kong risks losing too many of its skilled workers, or if its educational and economic opportunities are enough to beckon new talent
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Droves of Hongkongers are leaving the city to start new lives elsewhere. Photo: Dickson Lee

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For: Calissa Poon, 10, Diocesan Girls’ Junior School

There has been an exodus of expatriates and locals from Hong Kong since the 2019 pro-democracy protests, as the central government seeks to have more influence in the city’s affairs.

From the government’s national security law to the zero-Covid policy, people are unhappy with how the Hong Kong administration has handled key issues. Therefore, it is not a surprise that a record number of local residents have chosen to emigrate because of the city’s tighter social and political restrictions.

For example, many Hongkongers have accepted new pathways to permanent residency offered by countries such as Britain, Australia and Canada. Some young people who left the city to study abroad do not intend on returning.

Many of the people leaving Hong Kong are professionals or skilled workers. Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen

According to data from the Census and Statistics Department, a net outflow of 75,300 people was recorded from mid-2020 to mid-2021, leading to a population decline.

In 2021, research centre Youth Ideas conducted a survey covering those aged 34 or below with graduate or postgraduate education. The poll found that 24.2 per cent of respondents said they had plans to get a job outside Hong Kong in the next five years. The top destinations were Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the Americas.

Many of the people leaving Hong Kong are professionals or skilled workers from sectors, such as finance, health care and education. Major reasons for moving to work elsewhere included “work-life balance”, “emigration plan”, and “social and political stability”.

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The situation has been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, with Hong Kong having some of the world’s toughest travel and social-distancing regulations.

This has caused many expatriates to relocate to places like Singapore. To make matters worse, Hong Kong is facing stiff competition from Shenzhen and other cities in the Greater Bay Area. Reports say Hong Kong’s banking, accounting and information technology sectors are struggling with staff shortages.

Hong Kong is facing a serious brain drain triggered by the 2019 protests and exacerbated by the city’s strict Covid-19 policies. It is high time that the government implemented measures to retain talent in Hong Kong.

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Against: Agnes Chiu, 13, Canadian International School of Hong Kong

Amid the fifth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of people have left Hong Kong to study or live in places that they consider to be safer and better. It may seem as if the city is facing a brain drain, but if we dig deeper into Hong Kong’s economy and education, the opposite is true.

Hong Kong has a good education system with universities that rank among the highest in Asia and attract many international students. According to the Britain-based QS World University Rankings 2022, the University of Hong Kong was ranked 22nd globally, followed by the University of Science and Technology in 34th place.

In the 2019-2020 academic year, 12,912 students from the mainland and 1,301 students from the rest of the world attended universities in Hong Kong, according to Statista. This is a rich source of talent for Hong Kong.

The University of Hong Kong is one of the world’s top institutions of higher education. Photo: Sam Tsang

Even though some expatriates and locals may be leaving the city, we have people from the mainland to fill the vacancies. We also welcome talented people from around the world to work, live, study and invest in our city.

The government can also work on enhancing its education and labour policies to help more Hongkongers to become skilled workers and encourage them to stay.

Also, the so-called brain drain is hardly new to Hong Kong. In the run-up to the city’s reunification with the mainland in 1997, many of the well-off and professionals were opting for more promising futures outside the city amid the uncertainty of the time. But a lot of them returned to Hong Kong when their worries were no longer justified.

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Hong Kong is an international financial centre where many leading companies, banks and other institutions have set up their regional headquarters.

Hong Kong offers stability, a low tax rate and a gateway to the mainland where firms can expand their business. What’s more, even a foreigner can own 100 per cent of their business in Hong Kong. This makes Hong Kong very appealing to non-locals, global investors and those who want to establish a business abroad.

While some companies may relocate from Hong Kong, we will continue to benefit from the development of the Greater Bay Area.

The exodus of talent is only temporary. Hong Kong will certainly be able to weather the storm and enhance its reputation as the region’s financial and tourism hub.

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