The life of Expats in the "new" Hong Kong

Published 2021-05-31 12:06:04
Business photo created by lifeforstock -

The changing political landscape in Hong Kong has made many expats reconsider it as a desirable expat destination. Swiftly changing laws have made a lasting impact on Hong Kong's reputation as the world's financial powerhouse.

Recent changes in Hong Kong

In July 2020, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposed new regulations called the National Security Law (NSL) in Hong Kong amidst protests, riots and violence. All those events have had serious consequences:

  • About 40% of expats are planning to leave Hong Kong, according to a survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham).
    There were 325 respondents in the survey who were all members of AmCham and it was conducted in early May. 15% were making plans to depart by the end of this year, 10% as early as the summer, and up to 3% were making immediate plans to cut ties permanently with Hong Kong. Almost half of all respondents said they will definitely be leaving within the next few years.
  • The majority of those leaving were worried about the national security laws and how their kids' education would be affected in the long term. A recently introduced operation by the government to ensure all children in high school are fully instructed in the laws of the country have initiated a cascade of criticism by political opposition. Schools are now tasked with ensuring their students understand that "upholding national security is the constitutional responsibility of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region". This has led to many critics being imprisoned amidst the dissent.
  • Although government officials claim that no rights and freedoms have been affected by the new law, there have been numerous arrests of opposition members.
  • Both the US and the UK have expressed their unease with the unfolding developments in Hong Kong.
  • Local economists fear a mass exodus of expats will change the Hong Kong landscape forever.
  • A high number of respondents in the AmCham survey are considering Singapore, Bangkok, Taiwan and Taipei as alternate destinations after they leave Hong Kong. Singapore is a top favourite because of its competitive business and financial similarities to Hong Kong.
  • It's not only the political woes of Hong Kong that have expats eyeing alternative shores. Hong Kong's handling of the pandemic has also sparked unease and disapproval. 49% of respondents cited this as a reason for leaving, together with the difficulty with international travel and strict quarantine rules in Hong Kong.
  • According to the Asia Times, some respondents of the AmCham survey have also said they detected a growing anti-foreigner sentiment, particularly towards Caucasians and non-ethnic Chinese. They claim this was exhibited increasingly in the media and official statements.
  • Some respondents also saw a long-term drop in career opportunities for foreigners.
  • Other Hong Kong expats also cited a growing fear about free speech threats and the consequences of voicing your opinions under the NSL. They claimed the lines are now blurred about what views you can express freely and the consequences of this.
  • In October 2020, following the riots and violence, the number of work permits for foreigners took a nosedive - according to the South China Morning Post. The article explained this low figure with the scarcity of jobs due to the pandemic economic downturn rather than the political climate of Hong Kong. However, at around the same time, the Wall Street Journal cited the growing political unrest as the reason for the flood of expats departing.
  • Kiwis are just some of the many expats who have decided to pack up their lives in Hong Kong and seek other shores, according to the NZ Society of Hong Kong.
  • Even long-term expats, like those who have lived there for over twenty years, are considering ending their stint in Hong Kong amidst the rapidly changing political environment. They are fearful of their freedoms that are being increasingly curtailed.

Some historical context

Hong Kong was formally handed over by the British to the Chinese government in 1997, with the proviso that Hong Kong would continue with its capitalist structure and be governed differently from mainland China for the next fifty years.

Life in the first decades after the handover carried along as before, until the National Security Law (NSL) was introduced and enforced. Now the Chinese government is seen to be contravening that agreement and increasingly encroaching into Hong Kong status, especially when they decreed the highly controversial extradition bill: that criminals would be tried on mainland China rather than in Hong Kong.

This was the spark that ignited the violent protests that ensued.

What does the government think?

In response to the AmCham survey, the commerce secretary of Hong Kong stated that its status has not changed at all and it still welcomed foreign businesses to its shores.

He reiterated that the city was still very attractive to the many international companies that have their headquarters there. He claimed that other surveys show that the number of international businesses with their head office in Hong Kong have remained steady over the last few years.

He also said those who choose to remain, understand the Chinese government's obligation to restore stability in Hong Kong after the unrest of 2019.

Expat choices

Foreigners comprise a large proportion of the total population in Hong Kong and are employed in various sectors— financial, aviation, education, and a large number of  domestic workers coming from other areas in Asia.

It is understandable that having riot police present on your daily route to work or school, and the uncertainty of what might happen, can sway anyone to rethink living in Hong Kong. Children witnessing police blockades and violent rioting in their familiar surroundings will surely be affected.

The writing is on the wall for many expats and there is inevitable change coming to Hong Kong. The question of whether to leave or stay will depend on your personal circumstances and what you're comfortable with.

  • See our comprehensive expat guide to living in Hong Kong. With 50 topics, our guide for expatriation to Hong Kong will provide plenty of information to help you settle down in the Chinese city.

Share your experience, participate in the discussion and leave comments in our forum HERE.

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for

For other discussions, advice, question, point of view, get together, etc...: please use the forum.

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