For months, foreign companies have been asking the government to ease its quarantine restrictions and open the city to the outside world. Now the local business community has added its voice.
Earlier this month, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) released a January survey of 220 business representatives out of its 4,000 members.
Of those surveyed, 24% said emigration had a ‘medium’ effect on their businesses, 12% said it was ‘high’ and 2% said ‘very high’. In February this year, Hong Kong recorded a net loss of 65,295 citizens, the highest monthly figure for at least 12 months.
“Hong Kong is a knowledge-intensive service economy,” said Peter Wong, Chairman of the Board. “Human resources are very important. If we can’t stop this talent drain, we’re going to be worried. Hiring replacements and training them increases costs.
Of those leaving, 56% are middle managers and 19% senior managers. When asked why they emigrate, 57% said they wanted a better education for their children, 45% cited politics and 27% wanted a better living environment.
They don’t leave because they earn too little, so higher wages won’t stem the flow. The Chamber said emigration affects all sectors, including engineering, finance, accounting and IT.
These are different factors from those that persuade foreigners to leave.
“I’m leaving because of quarantine rules and the possibility of being separated from my three children,” Australian Andrea Smith said as she took her dog to the vet. “It’s something we couldn’t accept. So I’m going to take the children to our home in Australia. My dog and my husband will stay here. He has a good job and a good salary. Moving pets is more complicated than moving people.
Hong Kong’s quarantine rules, among the strictest in the world, have convinced many foreigners to leave. They have made it impossible for them to have the contact they want with their families, friends and colleagues in other countries and to run an Asia-Pacific operation from Hong Kong.
Other factors pushing them out include strict social distancing rules, school suspensions and confusion over mass testing and closures.
Allan Zeman is one of the most prominent foreign businessmen here and Lan Kwai Fong’s father. “The number of people leaving is frightening,” he said. “I’ve never seen it. Hong Kong’s success has always been based on its people and a skilled workforce. If we keep the borders closed, Hong Kong won’t be Hong Kong anymore.
Foreigners compare Hong Kong to Singapore and most Western countries that have chosen to “live with the virus”, instead of aiming for “zero-Covid”. They deem the latter unworkable and blame the Hong Kong government for not providing a timetable for ending the current restrictions.
Richard Leung, a business consultant, said Hong Kong officials appeared to have no policies of their own and were following scenarios given to them by Beijing.
“It has gotten worse with the recent serious outbreak of Omicron. The central government is very angry with Carrie Lam and her administration. This central control is becoming more and more evident. So what’s the point of submitting reports and documents to the SAR government when it cannot decide anything on its own?” he said.
Emigration remains a difficult and complex decision.
Translator Mary Wong left with her husband for Vancouver earlier this month. “I’m leaving because of politics,” she said in an interview before they left. “I supported the protest movement and I don’t like the path the city is taking. It becomes like a continental city.
But her husband David, a photographer, wasn’t so sure. “I would prefer to stay here two or three more years. I don’t know how much work I will be able to find in Vancouver. The winters there are very long and life is boring compared to Hong Kong. We will be living in the urban area but it is a 15 minute walk to the Skytrain which is the main form of public transport. It has 53 stations on 79.6 kilometers of track.
On the other side of the river, the grass may not be as green as it looks from here.
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