Many Hong Kong residents are scouring for new jobs and homes overseas, fearful that new national security legislation imposed by Beijing would crush coveted rights not enjoyed on the mainland and herald a new authoritarian era for China’s freest territory.
Beijing last week bypassed the territory’s Legislative Council to approve the legislation directly, heightening anxiety over its impact on the former British colony of 7.5 million people that is a global financial hub, and gateway for capital flows in and out of China.
Immigration lawyers and consultants, property agents and recruitment groups from Australia to Canada have told reporters that they were inundated with enquiries from Hong Kong residents.
“Hong Kong demand for international real estate and residency programs has rocketed over the past few weeks,” Georg Chmiel, executive chairman of international property portal Juwai IQI, said in a statement. “We see it in Malaysia, Australia, the UK, Thailand, Canada, Vietnam and the Philippines.”
Juwai does not disclose numbers of inquiries, but did say Australia was the top foreign real-estate investment location for Hong Kong buyers in the first half of this year.
While leaving Hong Kong has traditionally been an alternative for the wealthy and foreign passport-holders, more middle and working-class people are now also seeking options, especially where visas come cheaper.
Lily Chong, a real-estate agent in Western Australia who markets developments to investors in Asia, said inquiries from Hong Kong shot up more than 40 percent since the middle of last month and more than 140 potential buyers took part in an online forum on the last weekend of the month.
“After just a few days we have already closed one sale sight-unseen,” added Chong, managing director of IQI Western Australia.
After weathering often violent, mass anti-Beijing protests since last year, China says the new legislation is aimed at a small minority of troublemakers and would not erode the legal rights making Hong Kong such a popular financial center.
However, critics believe it is aimed at quashing dissent and would inevitably erode freedoms under the “one country, two systems” formula agreed when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, an event that also sparked an exodus.
The legislation punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, and within hours of its implementation, 10 people were arrested on Wednesday last week during disturbances.
After a first rush of inquiries about overseas possibilities when China proposed the legislation on May 21, the volume has surged again as its implementation happened.
As well as Australia and Britain, residents are seeking a new life in cheaper countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Singapore is generating high interest, too.
TO SINGAPORE AND TAIWAN
Andrew McNeilis, managing director for Asia at recruitment firm Phaidon International, said his firm had seen strong demand from Hong Kongers for Singapore, while it was becoming harder to convince people to go the territory.
“The new security law may result in an exodus of local talent,” said Victor Filamor, a partner at executive search firm Stones International in Hong Kong, though he stressed that it was too early to know the legislation’s effects.
Fueling the scramble, Taiwan, Britain, Australia and the US have all proposed measures to help accommodate Hong Kongers looking to resettle.
The day the legislation came into force, Taiwan opened an office to help Hong Kongers who might wish to go there.
Those looking to relocate to Canada are finding that Ottawa’s strict COVID-19 controls are making it particularly hard to get in, immigration lawyers said.
However, refugee claims from Hong Kong in the first three months of this year did nearly triple to 25 compared with all of last year, Canadian government data showed.
Stung by the offers of help for Hong Kong’s residents, China has warned foreign governments against meddling.
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