Hong Kong seeks to fill brain drain gap as locals and foreigners leave city

Compensation in Australia is also better, she said, adding that her pay will be doubled if she works on weekends and night shifts.

“The political reason is definitely a turning point. The social movements occurred in 2019 and 2020, setting off a wave of emigration,” she said.

She was referring to a series of protests that began in June 2019 over plans that would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China.

The demonstrations later spread to further reflect wider demands for democratic reform, and an inquiry into alleged police brutality.

Laura is among many in her generation who have found themselves at a crossroads after the social unrest.


But it is not just the locals who are looking for greener pastures.

Foreigners, who make up 10 percent of Hong Kong’s population, started to leave over the prolonged COVID-19 restrictions in the city. The effects were seen in the rental market.

In the expat enclave of Discovery Bay, luxury rents dropped 2.4 per cent in the last quarter of 2022, as demand fell on the back of tenants leaving.

Mr Patrick Groth, general manager of Hong Kong and Taiwan at Santa Fe Relocation, said that from January to September 2022, 90 per cent of his firm’s clients were outbound compared to 10 per cent inbound, which is a departure from previous years.

“Usually in our business, inbound relocation (versus) outbound will be 50-50 pre-pandemic, and then this slightly started to shift towards the end of 2020,” he said.

“It really peaked in 2022.”

Before the pandemic, peak moving season usually took place during the school break, from June to August.


Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee had pledged to raise the city’s competitiveness when he took office, a goal that China said was pivotal to the development of the Greater Bay Area.

With about 140,000 people dropping out of Hong Kong’s workforce in the last two years, the heat is on.

The city rolled out an aggressive talent trawling campaign last October, to attract graduates from the top 100 universities globally? or those who have an annual salary of about US$320,000.

Under the scheme, they can come to Hong Kong without any job offer. As of February, 92 per cent of the nearly 8,400 applicants got through.

The Immigration Department said it does not collect industry specific data, but recruiters are seeing demand for jobs in the financial sector.

“Finance is still the main bread and butter in Hong Kong. So I think finance will pick up first. And eventually once the financial market has picked up, there will be more businesses for consulting, IT,” said founder and CEO at Orion Executive Search International Limited, Arnaldo Oliveira.

He added that seasoned candidates have shown more interest in moving to Hong Kong, since it’s easier to get a work visa with more years of experience.


The answer could also lie further downstream, as more non-local students are enrolling in Hong Kong universities.

Majority are from the mainland. Other foreign students also recorded a moderate increase.

But there’s been a three-year drop in those staying on after graduation. The city is trying to tackle the problem, doubling the time limit students can stay and look for jobs after graduation, from one to two years.  

Among the handful who have stayed on is PhD student Jessica Sharmi.

The medical affairs associate at Pfizer said the job hunt was not without challenges, partly because many job advertisements sought candidates fluent in Cantonese, which she is not.

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