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August 1994, Volume 1, Number 7

Hong Kong Residents Rush for Foreign Citizenship

The residents of Hong Kong made a last-minute rush to obtain foreign citizenship before China takes back the British colony in 1997. About 42,000 people have applied for the last 13,610 passports Britain has made available for residents of Hong Kong, the last immigration slots left from the 1990 plan to making available 50,000 British passports for key professionals to ensure that they remained in Hong Kong until 1997.

These 50,000 immigrants receive British citizenship if they satisfy criteria including age, skill, English language proficiency, community service, and education. Hong Kong residents were initially reluctant to apply because of harsh criticism from China, and the feeling that anyone who took British citizenship would be penalized in any post -1997 administration.

First-round quotas for police, business, managers and service professionals were not filled. The second round has seen each class oversubscribed. There were 14 times the number of business professionals seeking British passports as there are spaces. Also oversubscribed are slots for social workers, translators, interpreters, architects, planners, surveyors, police and teachers.

Twice as many emigrants returned to Hong Kong in 1993 as in 1992, reports the Hong Kong Institute of Personnel Management. Experts predict that the number of returnees will increase until it peaks in 1997 or 1998. The government reports that more than 8,000 people returned to Hong Kong in 1992, after obtaining foreign passports--some 500,000 Hong Kong residents are believed to have foreign passports. The typical returnee was a professional with a college degree. 30 to 39 years old, male, and married with children. Most migrants are returning from Canada and Australia, which are struggling with recession and unemployment. A recent poll of the returnees found that 80 percent find it "easy to get a job" but encounter problems finding housing.

Immigrants from Hong Kong are no longer making Australia their destination of choice. Among the reasons Hong Kong residents are staying home is that Hong Kong businesses are paying high wages for skilled professionals and managers with language skills. The Australian Bureau of Immigration and Population Research reported that the number of Hong Kong residents arriving in Australia from July to December, 1993 dropped from 4,358 to 1,667.

The number of Hong Kong people permanently departing Australia is also rising. Departures from July-December, 1993 were 270 compared to 153 for the same period in 1992. The total foreign population in Australia at the end of May was 363,000 compared to 320,700 for the same time period in 1993.

Eric Ellis, "Last Chance for Citizenship Swamped," Australian Financial Review, July 13,1 994. Keith Wallis, "HK returnees on the increase," South China Morning Post, July 13, 1994. Mary Kwang, "Hongkongers rush to get UK passports," The Straits Times, July 13, 1994. Darren Goodsir, "Run on British passports," South China Morning Post, July 12, 1994. Scott, "Australia losing out as emigration destination," South China Morning Post, July 14, 1994.