The Hong Kong wealthy are fleeing… where to?

The Hong Kong wealthy are fleeing… where to?

Amid protests, Canada and Singapore are emerging as popular destinations to start over.

When trouble erupts around the globe, the U.S. has traditionally served as the principal island of security, particularly for the wealthier citizens of the world. The country is already home to more Hong Kongers than any nation outside of mainland China, and applications for a key emigration document, the “good citizenship card,” are up 54% in the past year as social and political unrest in the territory intensifies.

Yet according to a recent report in The Financial Post, President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, a recent slate of mass shootings and impending changes to the “investor visa” program are persuading Hong Kong’s would-be emigres to consider alternatives such as Singapore, Taiwan, Australia… and Canada.

Street demonstrations in Hong Kong, which have put the very future of the special administrative region in question, escalated this month with the killing of two teenage protesters by police.

Yet the trend away from the U.S. towards other destinations goes further back. In a December 2018 survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, one-third of the city’s citizens said they would consider leaving for pastures new. The most popular destinations were Canada and Australia, with at least 18% of respondents each, followed by Taiwan, at 11%, and Singapore at 5%. The U.S. was the top choice for just 2.9% of respondents.

Family ties have always been a key factor in making the U.S. attractive, as has the EB-5 investor visa program, which offers residency to anyone able and willing to make a US$500,000 investment in a business or other project that creates jobs for U.S. citizens. Starting on Nov. 21, however, the minimum investment required for the EB-5 will rise to US$900,000.

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security currently has a massive backlog, leaving some applicants waiting years for a response to their petitions. The department was buried in 930,311 pending cases of all types at the end of June, government data shows, twice as many as in 2015.

“EB-5 is not likely an answer to people in Hong Kong who say they need a quick exit strategy,” H. Ronald Klasko of Klasko Immigration Law Partners in Philadelphia told The Financial Post. “It will probably be at least three years before that’s going to get them to the U.S.”

Longstanding ties

Notably, last year, Canada recorded its biggest influx of immigrants since 1913. Its Global Skills Strategy program, offering temporary work permits to applicants in as little time as two weeks, has lured about 40,000 immigrant workers and their family members over the past two years.

The largest wave of immigration to Canada from Hong Kong occurred during the late 1980s and early 1990s, due chiefly to the fear of uncertainties concerning the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997. Nevertheless, many have returned since then and have resettled in the territory permanently. As of 2014, Hong Kong has the highest concentration of Canadian citizens in Asia, with approximately 300,000 Canadian citizens of all ethnic backgrounds living in the city.

In Canada, the majority of Hong Kong Canadians reside in the metropolitan areas of Toronto and Vancouver.

Macdonald Realty president Dan Scarrow of Vancouver told CBC that it’s hard to quantify exactly how the trend has changed since an extradition bill was proposed by the Hong Kong government in February, but added there’s been a noticeable jump in the number of prospective homebuyers from Hong Kong since mid-June.

“It’s going to take a while for that data to flow through the system, but it was really noticeable among our agents over the last couple of weekends,” Scarrow said. “What we’re seeing now is a fourth wave of Chinese immigration to Canada.”

“Most people in Hong Kong probably have a connection to Canada already, and it’s those people that are potentially going to be coming back quickly.”


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Anthony Moran
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