They put up with it during the 2019 political protests.
Then almost two years of pandemic lasted.
But this year, they say they’ve had enough.
Hong Kong residents will leave the city en masse in 2022, not because they want to, several told CNBC, but because Covid restrictions and what they see as an erosion of democratic norms are pushing them to leave.
A surge in departures is accelerating a “brain drain” of professional talent, a situation that reached a fever pitch around March, when omicron-fueled Covid-19 cases spiked across the city.
Now Hong Kong’s increasingly light-hearted lifestyle websites, once dominated by articles about the city’s best dim sum and foot massage parlors, are turning their focus to moving to-do lists and gift guides. parting.
‘Absolute mass exodus’
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Lam said on April 26 that the government’s Covid rules balance health and economic interests with public tolerance levels. .
Hong Kong continues to safeguard “human rights and freedoms” but that “one has to observe the law when exercising freedom,” he said.
On the issue of people leaving Hong Kong, Lam said it is their “individual freedom to come and go.”
Over the past 60 years, Hong Kong’s population has grown almost every year, from about 3.2 million people in 1961 to 7.5 million in 2019, according to the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department.
From 2015 to 2019, the city gained an average of 53,000 new residents per year. However, that is roughly the same number of people who left Hong Kong during the first two weeks of March alone, according to the city’s Immigration Department.
Mothers and children fled Hong Kong in droves at the news that government policies were separating parents from their children who have tested positive for COVID-19, said Pei, a longtime Hong Kong resident. Many parents stayed to work, she said, but many are now asking their employers for transfers to leave.
peter parks | Afp | fake images
Hong Kong lost some 93,000 residents in 2020, followed by another 23,000 in 2021. But early estimates show that many more people will leave this year.
“In recent years, people have thought about leaving, but in the last six months there has been an absolute mass exodus,” said Pei C., who has lived in Hong Kong for 17 years. She asked to be identified by her last name initial due to sensitivities surrounding the issue in Hong Kong.
The trigger, he said, echoed by numerous people who spoke to CNBC for this story, was the much-publicized policy that separated Covid-positive children from their parents earlier this year.
“A lot of parents understandably freaked out, so they booked themselves on the first few flights,” he said.
Pei estimates that 60% to 70% of his friends have left in the past six to 12 months, including people with businesses and family in Hong Kong, as well as those once deeply committed to staying. .
move to singapore
Most of the people who leave, Pei said, are headed to the same place: Singapore.
“Everyone goes to Singapore,” Pei said, especially those who work in finance, law and recruitment, he said.
Kay Kutt, CEO of Hong Kong-based relocation firm Silk Relo, agreed, saying people are drawn to Singapore’s ease of business, family friendliness, tax incentives and open borders.
In its 40 years of existence, the past three years have been the busiest years on record for Silk Relo’s sister moving company, Asian Tigers, he said.
“We can’t keep up with capacity,” he said. “We don’t have enough people to attend to what is happening in the market.”
Families are moving to Singapore, he said, but small and medium-sized businesses are also moving. While a company executive might have left in the past, now “everyone is leaving,” she said. Small companies are “taking all the equipment and putting them in Singapore”.
Big companies are also moving to Singapore, said Cynthia Ang, chief executive of recruitment firm Kerry Consulting. She cited L’Oreal, Moet Hennessy and VF Corporation, the latter which owns brands like Timberland and North Face, as examples, noting that there are more that have not yet made her decisions public.
“We’re getting more calls from our clients who are…sharing with us that they’re going to move the entire Asia Pacific office to Singapore,” he said.
Other companies stay in Hong Kong but downsize their offices and move the regional headquarters to Singapore, Ang said.
Australian Krystle Edwards said she has lived in Hong Kong for 12 years and wants to stay, but she and her husband will decide whether to leave in September.
“If the situation looks like 2023 is going to be more of the same in Hong Kong (quarantine restrictions on hotels, all that sort of thing), we will move to Singapore,” he said.
“It gets to a point where it’s too much.”
When temporary becomes permanent
Some people are taking advantage of Hong Kong’s tight Covid restrictions by taking extended vacations, Edwards said.
“A lot of families I know have been gone for three or four months,” Edwards said. “There are loads in Thailand – they just packed up and went to Phuket or [Koh] Samui. … They all have villas, some have even taken their children to school there, and said they will return to Hong Kong in August or September.”
Many expats went home for a few months this year. Now Pei said she’s noticing that a lot of these people don’t come back.
Kutt said this is “absolutely” happening, as evidenced by the number of moves happening without customers present. Before Covid, “absentee shippers” were rare, he said, but due to the number of requests, Silk Relo created a service whereby an on-site team member acts on behalf of a customer who cannot be present to A move.
Lockdown and quarantine policies, along with a merry-go-round of school closures, have sent many expats back home — to the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries — for good, Kutt said.
But deeply embedded locals are also leaving, he said.
Hong Kong-born Kam Lun Yeung said his family will be moving to Sydney, where he lived as a child.
“We consider [Hong Kong] home, and it’s hard to leave, especially considering how much we’ve emotionally invested in the city,” he said. However, “the 2019 protests over the current pandemic situation and seeing friends who were already leaving…made our decision a little easier.”
Lisa Terauchi grew up in Hong Kong but left shortly before her 45th birthday after her husband lost his job as a captain at Cathay Dragon, a Hong Kong-based airline that closed operations in late 2020. She and her family moved to the Netherlands, where her husband is from.
Hong Kong “was no longer the country that I grew up in, it was no longer the country that I remembered,” he said.
Terauchi said she has friends leaving, some who have lived there longer than she has. Although her eldest son is completing her master’s degree in Hong Kong, she said it is likely that she and her husband will not return, even to maintain their permanent resident status.
“I mean, is it worth it already?” she said.
Others have moved to the United Kingdom and Canada, Kutt said. During the pandemic, both countries launched visa programs that give eligible Hong Kong residents the right to reside within their jurisdictions.
Hong Kong immigration to Canada is “booming,” according to the Canadian immigration website, CIC News. However, even more are moving to the UK, with more than 100,000 applying to move as of March.
“I noticed, especially I think it was in March, the number of calls [from] …old Hong Kong families from long time ago…they have high net worth, they may have multiple houses, they choose to pack up and go,” Kutt said.
“Those were the ones that I would say shook me to the core,” said Kutt, who has lived in Hong Kong for more than 30 years.
Silk Relo and Asian Tigers are also seeing an “uptick” in movements from Hong Kong to Japan, South Korea and Thailand, Kutt said.
“We are seeing companies choosing Tokyo,” he said, indicating that it was surprising given that Tokyo has historically been a place for companies just looking to access the Japanese market.
Dubai is also absorbing talent from Hong Kong, said Kerry Consulting’s Ang. She said that’s especially true for US and European employers who already have a presence there.
Pepsi, Unilever and P&G moved people from Hong Kong to Dubai, he said.
“Saudi Arabia is also trying to fight for a piece of the pie,” Ang said. “I haven’t physically seen anyone that’s that excited to move to Saudi Arabia yet…” but places in the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates, are “trying to mirror what Dubai has done in the last two years.” “.