A public opinion survey shows that as many as 1.87 million could have definite plans to leave for good.
By Cheryl Tung
A girl waves farewell to friends as she departs for a permanent move to UK at the Hong Kong airport, June 30, 2021.
Nearly a quarter of Hong Kong residents have plans to leave the city for good, amid ongoing concerns over a lack of personal freedoms and a deteriorating political environment, a leading public opinion research institute said on Friday.
Twenty-four percent of respondents to a March 21-24 survey of 6,723 Hong Kong permanent residents aged 12 or over by Hong Kong's Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) said they were definitely emigrating, while a further 21 percent said they were either preparing or were planning but not yet ready to leave.
Three percent said they could leave at any time.
"This time we found that 24 percent are either preparing, ready, or have made plans [to leave permanently]," PORI's deputy CEO Chung Kim-Wah told a news conference. "Speaking frankly, [that's] definitely not a small number."
"Given that 24 percent plan to leave, that's 1.87 million people out of a population of 7.5 million," he said. "The most important factor is politics, more so than the pandemic."
Just over one-third of those who planned to emigrate cited diminishing personal freedoms in recent years, with 16 percent citing fears for their family's future, PORI researchers told a news conference.
Some 17 percent of those with plans to emigrate said they weren't supporters of former pro-democracy parties or opposition politics, a rise of five percentage points since the last survey in August 2021.
Another reason cited was lack of confidence in the city's economic future, and a lack of confidence in the political environment in mainland China under the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Strong political push-factor
Chung said the survey points to ongoing "social disintegration" in Hong Kong, with political factors the biggest consideration for those planning to leave for good.
"The economic pull factor is weaker than it was, and the politics-related push factor is stronger than before," Chung told journalists.
Chung said he has witnessed three waves of emigration in Hong Kong.
"I have never seen the political push-factor as strong as it is this time," he said, noting that more than 70 percent of respondents had cited fears for their personal freedoms or safety as reasons for leaving, with just 30 percent citing economic damage due to COVID-19 restrictions.
He said more than half of respondents said they had "no confidence" in Hong Kong's political environment or in their future level of personal freedom.
Independent scholar Benson Wong, who spoke via video link from the U.K., said it was significant that even growing numbers of pro-government people were also planning to leave.
He said the non-democratic respondents had also said they expect more from that political camp to leave in future.
Hong Kong's population fell by 1.2 percent in the 12 months to August 2021, amid an ongoing exodus of people in the wake of a draconian national security law imposed on the city by Beijing from July 1, 2020.
Government statistics showed the city's population fell by just over 87,000, to 7,394,700, as hundreds, sometimes thousands, of net departures continue to be recorded every day. The previous year's figures also showed a decline of 1.2 percent.
Net departures have regularly reached 2,000 ahead of key visa deadlines for the United Kingdom, with net arrivals rarely reported since the national security law criminalized public criticism of the government, political opposition and other forms of activism.
The exodus has hit the city's healthcare sector, with the Hospital Authority (HA) reporting the loss of 4.6 percent of doctors and 6.5 percent of nurses in public hospitals, and large numbers of mainland Chinese medical personnel being drafted in to help beleaguered public hospitals with the current COVID-19 wave.
Families and emigration consultants have also told RFA that the government's introduction of compulsory CCP-backed "civic and social development" curriculum, alongside "national security education," in Hong Kong's schools was the key factor in their decision to leave.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.