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It seems for many, the National Security Law (NSL), imposed by the Chinese government in June 2020, is causing this departure.

42% of surveyed expatriates in Hong Kong are considering or planning to move away from Hong Kong, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong's latest survey. Meanwhile, the other 58% of respondents have no plans to leave Hong Kong. 

It seems for many, the National Security Law (NSL), imposed by the Chinese government in June 2020, is causing this departure. The top reason cited by the respondents is that the National Security Law makes them uncomfortable (62%). Another 36% were concerned about the quality of education for their children after the implementation of the National Security Law.

In particular, one respondent wrote, "I think the tolerance towards non-ethnic Chinese and Caucasians in particular, which was a hallmark of post-colonial Hong Kong, is waning. As to the NSL, it's not just that, but also the rise of illiberal values as Hong Kong becomes more closely integrated into China."

Some respondents echoed that they observed the anti-foreigner sentiment in the city. 

Research also found that part of the reasons why expatriates want to leave Hong Kong was tied with the Covid-19 pandemic. About half (49%) indicated that Covid-19 quarantines make it more difficult for them to travel and visit their family, and 36% said the quarantine and other pandemic measures make it more difficult for their family to move in. 

Notably, 41% of respondents were pessimistic about Hong Kong's future competitiveness, making it the third-leading cause. 

Interestingly, Hong Kong's notorious reputation for its skyrocketing living expenses does not motivate expats to leave the city, with less than a quarter (24%) stating the city's costly cost of living as the reason why they plan to leave. 

Only a small portion of respondents' feedback has shown that Hong Kong's current situation has nothing to do with their flight, with 29% saying they have never planned to stay in Hong Kong for the long-term and 4% saying their employment contracts are going to end soon. 

Why expats want to stay

Conversely, as for those who plan to stay in Hong Kong, the foremost reason is that the quality of life is good (77%), followed by an excellent business environment (55%), a conviction in Hong Kong offering a promising future for both living and working (59%), and the city's proximity to China market (48%). Only 37% reflected that the reason they decided to stay is that their home country or other locations do not offer the same job opportunities. 

To look more closely into their responses, some elaborated the city's well-known competitive advantage such as its corporate tax benefits, bilingual education, proximity to Asia markets and opportunities are making them stay. 

One respondent addressed National Security Law and wrote: "Even if I relocate to other countries, there's no way we can avoid questions like Covid, housing and education. National security is a norm in today's world - the US also has its own homeland security department. To be honest, HK is much safer than the US... Hong Kong is still a conduit of the east and west and it has so much more to offer to businesses."

When expatriates plan to leave

Among those who plan to leave, nearly half of them (48%) plan to leave within three to five years. However, 52% of the expats aim to leave within a relatively short time frame — either immediately, as soon as they can relocate their job or family, before the end of the summer or by the end of the year. 

As for where they will go, 43% of surveyed expatriates are most likely to stay within the Asia region. Some respondents indicated that Thailand, Tokyo, Taipei, and Singapore would be possible choices. 

"Options in Singapore for tech and finance look attractive. While an expensive city, it has done relatively well on Covid-19 measures and shows long-term vision and plans to make it more liveable and more business attractive and ability to communicate to its population and internationally," one respondent elaborated. 

About two in five (39%) would return to their home country, and 18% will move to a new country outside of Asia. 

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong surveyed 325 members, which is about a quarter of its total membership, between 5 and 9 May 2021. More than three quarter (78%) of them came from countries outside Hong Kong, and the majority of them (96%) have been living in Hong Kong for at least one year. 

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