Revolving door means more good than harm

Editorial | Mary Ma 6 Jul 2020

Britain is the only country that has been relatively specific about its plan for an estimated three million Hongkongers born before the 1997 handover. Others, including the US, Japan, Canada, Taiwan and Australia, have so far just paid lip service.

Perhaps they are holding Britain primarily responsible for its ex-nationals - alias overseas - in its former colony.

The British government's official statement says it will be a "new bespoke immigration route" to give British Nationals (Overseas) five-year limited leave to remain so that they can live and work in Britain. After that, they can apply for indefinite leave to remain - that is, permanent residency - and, a year later, full citizenship.

That is also the length for settlement under other categories such as those landing with a work or spouse visa.

While visas under the existing categories have to be renewed in the middle of the five-year period, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Home Secretary Priti Patel have not made it clear whether the five-year stay for BNOs will be continuous or whether it will have to be renewed after two-and-a-half years.

Despite the lack of essential details, immigration consultants are already anticipating a gold mine, speculating that the process will largely mirror existing routes under the ancestry category.

For a sluggish British economy set to be compounded further post- Brexit, the new arrivals will bring to the country billions of pounds sterling and labor for jobs currently occupied mainly by unskilled workers from Eastern Europe.

Raab estimated that three million people would be eligible, but he was quick to add that the actual number of people landing would be less. The political atmosphere in Britain is still positive for the scheme as a recent survey surprisingly revealed 60 percent support for the plan.

But the mood can shift quickly and London could be forced to tighten the scheme if voters change their minds in future.

So, how many will leave Hong Kong?

In the last major exodus - from 1990 to 1994 - 5.2 percent of the population, which then stood at 5.7 million, left for favored destinations like the US, Canada, Australia and Britain.

If the 5.2 percent figure is still valid, it could mean a total of 390,000 people leaving this time.

This would be a loss to the SAR since people in this group are educated and productive, and have accumulated a certain amount of wealth.

However, economics professor Francis Lui Ting-ming was not totally off the mark when he saw the change as an opportunity to replenish the workforce with talent from the mainland and other countries.

If that is the case, then Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's administration had better expand the quality migrant admission program to bring in skilled and talented workers.

One downside of people leaving is that many will sell their high-value homes to fund their new lives, which could put downwards pressure on the Hong Kong housing market.

Nobody is indispensable. It isn't a bad thing if people who no longer feel they belong to the city can go somewhere that offers them new pastures that are suitable for them. At the same time, opportunities will be created here for others.

The door must remain open for people to come and go.

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