Hong Kong’s population falls as political crackdown sparks exodus

Hong Kong economy updates

Hong Kong’s population has fallen for the third consecutive six-month period after more than a decade of growth, as China’s political crackdown sparks an exodus of young people and families.

Beijing tightened its grip on the territory last year with a sweeping security law, and in recent months the city’s airport has been thronged with Hong Kongers saying tearful farewells as they leave for new lives abroad.

The city recorded a 1.2 per cent decline for the first half of the year to 7.39m, with an outflow of 89,200 Hong Kong residents.

“There are many reasons for people leaving, there is some concern about the education of their children, the national security law and how it might affect them . . . [as well as] economic reasons,” Paul Yip, a professor at the University of Hong Kong and population health expert, said.

Apart from the prosecution of government critics, the security law has transformed Hong Kong’s institutions, such as the education system, to bring them closer in line with those on China’s mainland.

Yip warned that the rise in emigration could have an economic impact on the city. “If you go to the airport, you will see young and middle-aged family types moving out,” he said. “When they leave Hong Kong they bring their skills and their capital out of Hong Kong . . . our ageing will become more accurate than ever.”

Hong Kong’s gross domestic product grew 7.5 per cent year on year in the second quarter of this year after the economy suffered a historic recession in 2019.

The Hong Kong government explained the territory’s falling population by pointing to pandemic travel restrictions and a 37 per cent decline in the number of people making use of a scheme that allows mainland Chinese to settle in Hong Kong. “Stringent border control and quarantine measures have been in place in Hong Kong,” the government said.

Last year, the British government pledged a possible path to citizenship for as many as 3m Hong Kong residents who hold or are eligible for a British National (Overseas) passport.

The UK gave Hong Kong citizens the passport when the territory was handed back to China in 1997, but the BNO did not allow people to settle in Britain. This changed when the UK brought in the new visa scheme that the government said was in response to China’s imposition of the security law on Hong Kong.

As of the end of March, 34,300 BNO passport holders and their families had applied, according to official UK figures.

Canada has also announced new paths to permanent residency for skilled Hong Kong residents and Hong Kongers who have studied in the North American country.

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