Wed, Sep 18, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Hong Kongers troubled by unrest look for new homes abroad

By Clare Jim, Sonali Paul and Evan Duggan  /  Reuters, HONG KONG, MELBOURNE and VANCOUVER

As protests in Hong Kong stretch from summer into autumn with little sign of resolution, a surge in migration applications suggests more locals are making plans to leave the special administrative region.

Their sentiments, reflected in passport paperwork and in interviews with residents, migration agents and real-estate brokers across the globe, show the potential for human and capital flight out of Hong Kong.

Since an abortive push to allow extradition to China sparked unrest in the former British colony three months ago, emigration seminars have been overflowing, organizers and attendees have said.

Requests for police record printouts, which cost HK$225 (US$28.76) and are only issued for visa applications or child adoptions, last month jumped 54 percent year-on-year to 3,649.

There have been more requests this year than at the same point in any of the previous five years.

In 2017, the most recent year for which figures are available, there were 75 adoptions in Hong Kong, a number comparable to previous years.

The Hong Kong government has estimated that last year about 7,600 people left the territory for good, roughly one-third the number who sought police record printouts.

Authorities in Taiwan, Malaysia and Australia have reported spikes in migration inquiries, and property agents from Melbourne to Vancouver have said that their telephones are running hot.

“There are many uncertainties in Hong Kong,” one Hong Kong investor on a property agent’s tour of suburban Melbourne said late last month, before laying out A$600,000 (US$410,467) for a house-and-land package.

“People like me in their 40s and 50s — we think about our child,” said the investor, who gave only her surname, Lee, because her employer forbids speaking to the media.

“We want a backup home, a better place to live,” she added. “At least if something bad happens, they have a backup plan, an exit plan.”

She is not alone: Lee’s sentiments were echoed in interviews with 10 other families or individuals considering emigrating.

China has denounced the protests, accusing the US and Britain of fomenting unrest, and the Hong Kong government has sought to head off further trouble by accepting one of the protesters’ demands and withdrawing a controversial extradition bill.

As Hong Kong’s protests have expanded during the summer, swelling to million-strong marches and calls for democracy, so too have Hong Kongers’ searches for safe havens.

In June, lawyers and bankers told reporters that wealthy tycoons were shifting their fortunes to places like Singapore.

Now, migration agents said, middle-class families are checking out cheaper alternatives.

“The numbers are the highest in recent years, even higher than 2014,” said Peggy Lau, a sales director at Uni Immigration Consultancy in Hong Kong, where inquiries have surged sevenfold since the protests began in June.

There are no official data tracking emigration applications from Hong Kong, which has a population of about 7 million. Nor is there evidence of departures or cash outflows on the scale of those in the aftermath of the 1997 handover from Britain to China.

However, there are firm signs of preparations.

Favored destinations — such as Taiwan, which is culturally similar to Hong Kong, and Malaysia, which is relatively cheap — have seen sharp rises in interest.

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