To stay or to leave : Hong Kong’s new emigration wave

Story by Angel Hui, Sammy Heung and Harvey Kong

As Hong Kong grapples with its future, many in Hong Kong are doing the same, with some deciding to emigrate abroad. As others are desperate to leave, some are having second thoughts.

Rachel holds her Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport, along with an envelope from United State Department of State National Visa Center in Hong Kong, Dec. 2, 2020. PHOTO/Harvey Kong

Rachel, a 20-year-old biology student, is currently in the process of emigrating to the United States. Unlike others who are looking for ways to emigrate abroad, Rachel did not make the decision to emigrate herself, instead she is emigrating with her entire family.

In 2008, Rachel’s mum applied for permanent residency in the United States due to some family issues. As the United States sees anyone over 21 years old as an individual, Rachel must go to the United States with her mother and her siblings before 2022, in order to continue her emigration procedure. As she has relatives who are now living in the US, she does not feel her accommodation and education would be an issue.

Politics was not the major reason for Rachel to emigrate abroad. “Political issues will never be my major concern. The political environment is determined by those in power.” She said, “The political environment is determined by those in power. I am not so confident in ‘democracy’ in general.” Rachel added.

Rachel is more concerned about adapting to life in the states, where she feels that her largest obstacle would be forming her own social circle.

However, politics is now one of the reasons that people are considering to emigrate from Hong Kong.

John Hu, a migration consultant with 20 years of experience, notes that the national security law and the resulting preferential treatment from Western countries have given people a push to emigrate from Hong Kong. He notes that his client types have largely stayed the same, but he has noticed that they are getting younger and more determined to leave. “We realize that with everything happening, the determination that people have to leave Hong Kong is getting stronger.” he said.

Hong Kong does not have any official emigration figures, but the Security Bureau keeps an estimate based on application of Certificates of No Criminal Convictions (CNCC), which is a document needed for some emigration visas. The Security Bureau estimated that 7000 people have emigrated last year, a decrease from 7600 compared to the previous year, while the figure for 2020 is not yet available. However, the figure is not an accurate representation of emigration figures, as a CNCC application is not a guarantee that the applicant will be emigrating.

A hint at the actual situation could be seen from John’s migration consulting business, who has seen business soar throughout the past year. “Recently our business is quite good. We have a double digit business growth per year, and for this year maybe 40% growth” he said.

Although a large number of people are emigrating to other countries, there are also people who chose to return to Hong Kong.

Karen Chan, a 32-year-old school teacher holds her Canadian passport. PHOTO/Handout

32-year-old Karen Chan is now a primary school teacher in Hong Kong. She emigrated to Toronto, Canada in 2003 after having her The Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination in Hong Kong.

“After the public exam, I think the education in Hong Kong does not suit me so I want to go to other places to continue my education,” Chan said.

She then finished two years of high school and did her Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Art and Education at York University in Toronto. After a few years, her family then joined her in Toronto in 2011. But in 2013, she travelled back to Hong Kong in search of job opportunities, while her family stayed in Toronto.

“I actually was a tutor in the tutoring centre, and then I was also a part-time teaching assistant at a school. I was trying to find a full-time job during that time. Because the waiting list of the full-time teacher in Toronto was really long so I probably had to wait a long time before I could get my own classroom.” Chan recalled. “So I decided to come back to see if I can have a chance to be a homeroom class teacher.”

Reunited with Chan for only two years, her family was skeptical about her decision of returning to Hong Kong at first. “But I told them because for me, Toronto is boring. And then I think for my career, coming back to Hong Kong is a good opportunity. I also have other family members in Hong Kong too so it was not like I was going somewhere with no one around me and no friends at all.”

Despite being born and raised in Hong Kong, it took Chan some time to adapt to the life in Hong Kong. “One thing I can not bear is the weather and the pollution. And also the public transit with many people on it. Because in Toronto, we drive. But here, people are everywhere.”

Grew up in both cities, Chan said she considers herself both a Hongkonger and Canadian. “When I was in Canada, I kept telling people that I came from Hong Kong. So when I come back, sometimes depending on the situation people will say you are a Canadian. But I will still say I’m from Hong Kong.”

However, she agrees that Asians in Canada have less advantages than other Canadians.

“If you think of the job opportunities. Especially immigrants from Hong Kong, or even Asians, they are willing to do overtime compared to other Canadians.” Chan noted. “But I think what’s important is yourself. You should not think of yourself as an outsider. For example, when you go to the store, the staff there may treat you differently but you need to fight for yourself, you need to tell them that you are no different from other citizens.”

With the recent situation in Hong Kong, Chan admitted that she has thought of going back to Toronto. “But I probably have a long plan about that like the money, my job and everything. Maybe five to six years later.”

Nevertheless, Chan expressed that if she had another chance, she would still choose to emigrate to Canada and then return to Hong Kong. “The whole experience is very fruitful. Right now, I learnt to respect the cultures in other countries. I know the difficulties and the values that I learnt in Toronto. I became more open-minded. It was a good experience to know me more. I am really glad that I did that because it gave me more opportunities in my life.”

Read Part 2: “Immigration KOLs” sprung up amid rising emigration numbers in Hong Kong 

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