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Study: More Hong Kong Millionaires Seek to Emigrate

  • Shannon Van Sant

FILE - A security guard stands at a luxury flat in Hong Kong.

FILE - A security guard stands at a luxury flat in Hong Kong.

Some lawyers in Hong Kong say increasing numbers of residents are filing paperwork to emigrate, a trend that has the potential to echo a previous outflow of Hong Kong citizens in the late 1990s at the time of the handover to China.

A new study reveals one in 10 of Hong Kong’s wealthiest citizens wants to emigrate. The survey of more than 3,000 people was conducted by the University of Hong Kong's Social Sciences Research Center. Jean-Francois Harvey, a managing partner at Harvey Law Corporation, said his firm has observed a 50 percent increase in clients seeking to emigrate abroad.

“The last two or three years we have a retirement emigration wave where more and more Hong Kongese are emigrating outside Hong Kong, especially from Taiwan, the U.S. and Canada, for retirement, for quality of life, etc. We see also more and more students who go and study outside of Hong Kong and who aren’t coming back,” he said.

The survey found that the number of millionaires, defined as those with [US]$1.3 million or more in liquid assets, climbed 14 percent. The survey also found that 11 percent of Hong Kong’s multimillionaires were considering emigration in the next five years. Forty-three percent chose Canada as a top destination followed by Britain.

Many cited dissatisfaction with Hong Kong’s education system and environment as factors in wanting to leave. Others said growing influence from China’s central government and last year’s pro-democracy protests had inspired them to try to emigrate abroad. Not all of Hong Kong’s lawyers have observed an increase in emigration.

“Usually they are more well heeled and have a more vested interest in Hong Kong. They have good jobs, it’s a low tax jurisdiction. The market in China is tremendous and that is because of the political uncertainty, but if anything the opportunities are in Hong Kong, and I don’t see a big wave of people coming to me to get assistance for moving to the United States or any of the traditional destination points for immigrants,” said Eugene Chow, a lawyer.

A skyrocketing increase in the cost of living in Hong Kong may also be a factor in residents attempting to leave. Ma Ngok, associate professor in the Department of Government and Administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said an increase in emigration would have a negative impact on the city.

“I don’t think leaving HK can solve Hong Kong’s problems. Hong Kong needs more people to be committed to the city’s future and strive for a better Hong Kong,” said Ma.

Fears of increasing influence from mainland China prompted a wave of emigration in the 1980s and 1990s, before the 1997 handover from Britain.

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