Hong Kong Protests Have City’s Residents Plotting Their Exit
Demonstrators march during a protest in the Shatin district of Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg)

Hong Kong Protests Have City’s Residents Plotting Their Exit

(Bloomberg) -- When Kevin Tsang tuned into Carrie Lam’s predawn press conference to condemn protesters who had ransacked government offices during a dramatic escalation of tensions over Hong Kong’s controversial extradition bill, he didn’t like what he heard.

So much so, that the 25-year-old surveyor is now considering emigrating to Australia.

Lam, the city’s chief executive, dodged questions whether she could face the families of three people who had committed suicide to protest the bill, which would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland and is seen as a further erosion of the city’s independence from Beijing.

“People sacrificed themselves to make their voices heard, but she just avoided the questions,” he said. “If the democracy, freedom we have now would stay intact, I wouldn’t think about leaving at all, all my family and friends are here. But the environment gives me a feeling that if I say something wrong, I may be arrested.”

Hong Kong Protests Have City’s Residents Plotting Their Exit

He’s not alone. Even with the bill shelved, weeks of mass protests and sometimes violent police clashes in the city have seen emigration inquiries surge, according to interviews with migration consultants, brokers and accountants.

At Goldmax Immigration Consulting Co., inquiries and applications have jumped 20% since May, said Margaret Chau, an immigration program director at the firm.

“In the past, people would ring up for inquiries, but now they seem to be very determined,” said John Hu, director of John Hu Migration Consulting, adding that the number of inquiries his firm handled doubled in June. “Nowadays, if they find that they are eligible, they will sign the agreement to migrate right away.”

The most popular destinations are Canada and Australia, which are perceived as having high quality of life, strong education systems and stable economies. That’s followed by countries including the U.K. and the U.S.

To be sure, the flow of people and capital abroad has long been a feature of life in Hong Kong, and it’s too early to tell whether there will be a large pickup in the outflow of emigrants or money in the months ahead. Still, having a second passport is an insurance policy of sorts, Hu said.

Hong Kong Protests Have City’s Residents Plotting Their Exit

In Canada, the surge in migration inquiries is reminiscent of the late 1990s in the run up to the handover of Hong Kong to China.

Vancouver-based accounting firm Manning Elliott LLP recently held seminars for Hong Kong residents interested in emigrating or returning to Canada. More than 500 registered within hours, double the number who signed up last year, said Matthew Ko, one of the firm’s accountants.

“The interest has definitely increased a lot, especially in the last two months, as people started talking more about the future,” Ko said. “The economy in Hong Kong, in Asia in general, hasn’t been really good for the last little while. So people have started thinking about it, even without the protests, but the protests definitely made people think about it more.”

Paul Wu, 55, has been growing concerned about Hong Kong’s economic and political trajectory and what that means for his childrens’ future. He holds a Canadian passport after having studied in Vancouver decades ago, but returned to Hong Kong in the early 2000s for work.

Hong Kong Protests Have City’s Residents Plotting Their Exit

He’s now in the midst of moving back to Vancouver and is convinced he has made the right choice.

“We understand, at the end, you don’t get the actual democratic way like the Western way,” Wu said. “But when the Hong Kong government has to talk from the point of view of China, and not from the point of view of Hong Kong, that is the thing that worries people and worries me too. Because of that, Hong Kong has really lost its uniqueness of becoming one city.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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