By Anayat Durrani
Hong Kong’s population increased by 2.1% to more than 7.5 million in the first half of 2023, per Census and Statistics Department figures. The rise could be due in part to arrivals from mainland China being admitted to Hong Kong through various programs as well as the return of Hong Kong residents who left during the pandemic.
Mainland Chinese migrants require visas to relocate to Hong Kong; about 40,000 moved to this special administrative region between 2010 and 2019 per year using the “one-way permit” scheme, per official data. An additional 11,000 or more per year used a visa program for skilled mainland professionals and college students who can obtain a Hong Kong passport if they remain for seven years, according to Reuters.
“Hong Kong has a floodgates policy and a relatively small number of visa programs, which enable access to Hong Kong residency for mainlanders,” says Philippe May, CEO of EC Holdings. “The Admission Scheme For Mainland Talents and Professionals requires a job offer, and the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme is at least a 12-month application process with no guarantee of approval at the end of that lengthy period of time.”
Also, a new visa was introduced in late 2022 to attract top professionals with strong academic qualifications.
“The recently introduced Top Talent Pass Scheme is only available to Chinese nationals on the basis they already have permanent residency overseas or have lived outside of China continuously for at least 12 months immediately prior to applying,” says May.
Exodus from Hong Kong
The territory also saw its largest resident exodus since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, according to Immigration Department statistics. Resident departures surpassed arrivals by more than 291,000 this year.
Hong Kong residents are reportedly leaving due to the territory’s tough management of the COVID crisis, civil unrest, and the new national security laws implemented by Beijing in 2020.
Many Hong Kong residents relocated to Singapore, while others applied to the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia for residency under their new visa programs. According to media reports, the UK’s Home Office announced in January 2023 that two years after introducing their visa program, they welcomed 144,500 immigrants from Hong Kong.
“In the past few years, we have seen more applicants moving to Canada directly from Hong Kong or Mainland China,” says Feruza Djamalova, senior business immigration lawyer at Canada-based Sobirovs Law Firm.
Djamalova says this trend can be attributed to several factors, including the political climate in China to dual-residences/passports, adding that many from Hong Kong have maintained their Canada permanent residence or their Canadian passports.
“With the recent changes, they now have decided to fully relocate to Canada and encouraged people in their network to do the same when they did not previously obtain any status in Canada,” says Djamalova.
Another factor, the immigration lawyer says, is Canada's temporary public policy that has created permanent residence pathways for Hong Kong residents who studied in Canada or have worked in Canada. The policy will remain active until August 31, 2026.
Apart from its temporary public policy, Djamalova says, “it has always kept its business immigration programs open to all Hong Kongers who want to establish, purchase or invest in a business in Canada.”
Chinese HNWIs are on the move
China is expected to see a net outflow of 13,500 high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) in 2023, while the outflow from Hong Kong would be of about 1,000, according to the 2023 Henley Private Wealth Migration Report. China has experienced the highest outflows of millionaires each year in the past decade due to migration, per the report.
“Popular destinations for outgoing Chinese HNWIs in 2022/2023 include the likes of Singapore, Canada, USA, Australia, the UK, the UAE and several European countries,” says Andrew Amoils, head of research at New World Wealth. “The same applies to HNWIs leaving Hong Kong.”
Peter Luo, principal consultant at Express Immigration in New Zealand, believes the actual number of people wanting to emigrate from China to be much higher, but says most developed countries have tightened their rules or even shut their doors.
“Their reasons for leaving the country varies, some might be looking for political security, others might want better education for their next generation,” says Luo.
Countries like Canada, Australia, the U.S., New Zealand, and the UK, Luo says, “are ideal immigration destinations for most Chinese, including Hong Kong Chinese,” but due to the high threshold, many will make do with other European countries like Ireland, Greece, Malta and Portugal, he says.
“Some may choose to have a passport from an unknown island,” adds Luo. “Even long term visitor visas to less developed Asian countries like Thailand and the Philippines have a big market.”
Chinese investors dominate the U.S. EB-5 visa applications
Meanwhile, the EB-5 program remains a popular route for investors from mainland China. During China’s zero-COVID policy and lockdown, investment immigration consultancies experienced a surge in inquiries from nationals seeking to relocate their families to other countries for better opportunities.
Mainland Chinese investors continue to dominate the EB-5 visa program, and made up the largest nationality of EB-5 investors in 2022, according to State Department data. Out of a total of 10,885 EB-5 visas issued in 2022, 6,125 were granted to Chinese applicants.
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