Hong Kong’s recent announcement of special one-year work visas for foreign-born children of permanent residents could potentially accelerate the reverse migration of Vancouver’s Hong Kong-born population, which has already gone down by 14 per cent between 1996 and 2011, falling from 86,215 to 73,770 over that period. Considering that 20,500 people came to Vancouver from Hong Kong in that period, the departure rate is actually higher than the figures indicate.
And with arrivals from Hong Kong now at their lowest level compared to the last few years, with just 383 immigrants arriving in British Columbia from Hong Kong in 2013, the numbers living in Vancouver could get significantly lower yet.
According to Daniel Hiebert, professor at UBC, Hong Kong’s latest visa scheme is not unique. “There are many places that have these kinds of plans now. It’s becoming more common for countries to work through their diaspora populations as a source of newcomers, particularly countries facing demographic issues (such as a low birth rate),” he says.
One such example is Japan, which has tried to attract second or third generation ethnic Japanese living abroad, especially those living in Latin America. However the scheme has not been entirely successful, mainly because the returning migrants found it difficult to adjust in Japanese society, resulting in many returning back to where they came from.
A similar reason may prevent Canadian-born children of Hong Kong migrants returning. Cultural and language factors, as well a preference for Vancouver’s relaxed and outdoor lifestyle may win out over Hong Kong’s compact, fast-paced lifestyle.
Another factor to consider is the cost of housing in Hong Kong, which happens to be the only city in the world which is less affordable than Vancouver.
However, according to Hiebert, most Canadian-born children of Hong Kong immigrants are on the lookout for opportunities available to them, both in Vancouver and in Hong Kong. “Typically, that group of people still has family networks in Hong Kong. Uncles, aunts, second-cousins, whatever. So they have got places to crash for a while, they can look around and survey the scene,” he said.
“Don’t forget that very large numbers of the Hong Kong diaspora in Vancouver travel back and forth regularly, you’ve got non-stop flights that are quite affordable, even on a student budget…and if you have relatives you can stay with, then life is quite easy, to make that jump over there. Either way, people will very quickly decide whether the pace of Hong Kong and the economy of Hong Kong appeals to them.”
Hiebert believes that even if Hong Kong’s scheme is initially successful in getting their diaspora population to go back, the long-term success of the scheme is far from assured. “Maybe the plan works as intended. But with a highly fluid population you’ve got to worry about retention as well as attraction…these kind of policies are never massive, crashing successes.”