Since 2019, the exit rate of foreign workers leaving the financial hub is fast outpacing the rate at which foreigners are arriving.
According to a recent survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, 44% of members were thinking of leaving the territory after a wave of doubt has swept through ex-pat populations about their future in the city.
A further 26% of the companies surveyed said they were considering relocation.
“Companies are not keen to go – but for the staff, there are all sorts of issues. Because they have personal lives, they have anxieties, they have families back home,” the Chamber’s outgoing-president Tara Joseph said.
“One of the things that are really hurting at this point is there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Several relocation hubs have predicted a fall from grace for Hong Kong as its high-skilled workforce abandons ship in search of greener pastures. Reuters news agency predicts Hong Kong’s financial sector faces a “talent crunch” as ex-pats are heading for the exit.
The territory’s strict Covid laws have been the spark that has prompted many ex-pats to look for the door. The zero-Covid policy which has been adopted in unison with mainland China is seeing arrivals stuck in mandatory quarantine periods for 14 days which is wreaking havoc for businesses.
Just this week, a rise in cases has sparked panic-buying in shops and pharmacists. Mandatory city-wide testing is set to begin in late March and the draconian restrictions many western countries appear to be leaving behind show no signs of dissipating for Hong Kong residents.
Furthermore, Beijing’s national security law that was put in place in the summer of 2020 has instilled a growing sense of uncertainty among businesses, both local and foreign. Sources are reporting that the draw for international businesses is not quite what it was before the major street protests in 2019.
Foreign business and ex-pats are not the only ones to feel tension over the national security law – 103,900 Hong Kongers have applied to move to the UK since the launch of the new British National Overseas visa which will provide them with the right to live, work and study in the UK.
South China Morning Post has reported that Singapore has become a highly sought-after alternative to Hong Kong for ex-pats.
The sovereign island city-state is a tailor-made replacement for the awe-inspiring urban landscapes of Hong Kong, with finance and business at the heart of the city’s development. Canada and Australia are also locations that are increasingly popular with ex-pats.
It remains to be seen how long Hong Kong will pursue its zero-Covid approach to dealing with the disease, but it shows no signs of getting any easier and for ex-pats living in the city, life now compared to just three years ago is almost unrecognisable.