Hong Kong expats mull leaving as protests continue

Published:  9 Sep at 6 PM
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Hong Kong’s popularity a an expat hub is mostly due to its position as one of the planet’s major commercial and financial hubs, but the desire for freedom from China’s oppression may change its face for the future.

Last week, a major ratings agency downgraded the city’s credit rating due to the ongoing protests, stating its belief that public discontent is likely to continue. The announcement came in spite of chief executive Carrie Lam’s withdrawal of the vastly unpopular extradition bill which started the protests three months ago. Expats and their employers are now counting the estimated costs as well as the risks of staying in the city, even although it hosts the world’s fourth-largest stock market as well as headquarters for hundreds of foreign companies.

Soon after the rating agency’s announcement, violence broke out again as protestors blocked main roads and set fires after trashing traffic lights. Police used tear gas to disperse the rioters and the vast majority of expats stayed indoors and wondered what’s coming next. For years, expat professionals including lawyers and international bankers have made their way to the island, enduring high rentals and cramped conditions whilst loving the urban lifestyle, the low taxes and even lower crime rate. Talk is now concentrating on the possibility of leaving, thus massively damaging the city’s economy and its international reputation.

Even now, applications for employment visas are falling, fixed on the premise that Beijing is planning to trash the ‘one country, two systems’ framework which made Hong Kong what it is today – Asia’s World City. Expats have been seen amongst the protestors and, should the bill have become law, would have risked arrest and transportation to China for trial. Many have called Hong Kong home for several decades or longer, but are now reluctantly considering leaving for friendlier shores. Others aren’t happy about leaving for economic reasons, and those with young families are now reluctant to let their kids out on their own, especially on weekends. The vast majority of expats consider themselves as ‘Hong Kongers’ and would hate to leave, but may well have no option should Beijing toughen its stance.
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