What's Driving Hong Kong's Uptick In Emigration?

The Tsim Sha Tsui area in in southern Kowloon, Hong Kong
The Tsim Sha Tsui area in in southern Kowloon, Hong Kong
Dai Tian

HONG KONG — While migrating to Hong Kong has become trendy for certain Chinese middle-class families, a wavelet of Hong Kong’s own middle class seems to be moving off the wealthy island.

According to data from Hong Kong’s Security Bureau, some 3,900 people emigrated in the first half of this year. Though this is still far fewer than the tens of thousands of people who left every year before the island’s handover to China in 1997, it is nonetheless a sign of a new trend.

Chen Xiaoyi, a migration agent specializing in Canada, says there have been a “massive number of requests” recently from those looking for information about emigrating. “Some migration intermediary agencies are obliged to hold migration seminars on weekends,” Chen explains. “Such seminars were very popular before 1997 and then disappeared for years.”

The 30-year-old Audrey and her husband Samson chose to move to Australia last August. “Hong Kong’s living space is tiny,” she says. “It’s hard to buy property. The air is bad, and the work pressures are heavy. In an economic downturn one can be laid off anytime.”

According to a Hong Kong government annual report, an average of 20,000 people moved abroad annually in the early 1980s. At its peak, this rose to around 60,000 people a year in the early 1990s. The emigration tide had fallen below 10,000 since 2003.

According to the latest report by the Hong Kong government, the main destinations of Hongkongese are the United States, Australia and Canada. And 2011 saw the first increase in the number of people leaving in a decade. Based on data from Hong Kong’s Security Bureau, 3,900 residents relocated abroad in the first half of this year, 8.3% more than during the same period last year. The total number of people who moved out of Hong Kong last year was 7,600.

The reasons for leaving include politics, the economy and education, says Ho.

It’s the economy

In 2012, Hong Kong’s real GDP grew 1.4%. The growth is expected to be between 2.5% and 3.5% this year. Due to the features of its tiny, liberal and free economy, Hong Kong is vulnerable to external economic shocks. As its 2012 annual report showed, the island’s economy has undergone a significant slowdown since mid-2011. Because the European debt crisis is not resolved, the recovery of major advanced economies is weak. This is challenging for Hong Kong’s trading environment and its services exports.

Whereas the previous waves of those leaving were victims of real estate devaluation in the financial crisis, with the middle class losing their biggest assets, now people are leaving because real estate prices are soaring, says Chen. Since Hong Kong homeowners don’t know when the housing prices will fall, they prefer to sell while the prices are still good, said Chen. More than 70% of Chen’s clients have expressed interests in selling their Hong Kong properties.

Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor — Photo: Ding Yuin Shan

Meanwhile, based on the International Housing Affordability Survey conducted by Demographia, which looked at more than 300 cities worldwide, Hong Kong has the least affordable housing. According to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch property market outlook report released in October, Hong Kong’s property prices are expected to fall by 5% this year, and by 15% next year.

As Ho says, half a million euros of investment would buy a resident permit in Portugal, whereas it’s not enough even for a small Hong Kong apartment.

Everything’s political

At the same time, ever since Leung Chin-Ying became chief executive of the island last year, he has been highly controversial, as many of his top staff have been involved in scandals.

“Regardless of whether they are wrong or right, the involvement of senior officials in scandals has led to people distrusting the government and has affected government administrative efficiency,” says Rita Fan, former chair of the Hong Kong Legislative Council.

“Hong Kong’s political situation right now is in the biggest mess of the past 12 years,” adds Ma Ngok, associate professor of politics and administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Don't forget the kids

Chen Xiaoyi notes that 80% of her clients are middle-class people with children from newborns to teenagers. And emigration is often driven by a desire to give kids a better education.

Stephanie went to Canada with her parents before the former British colony’s handover, but she returned to Hong Kong on her own afterwards. This year, she decided to return to Canada with her husband and her 5-year-old son. She is convinced that her children will receive a better education there, just like her parents believed.

“All the parents around me arrange intense activities for their kids,” Stephanie says. “Otherwise it just seems impossible to compete with other children.” She says that were her son to stay in Hong Kong he would be obliged to follow the rules of the game, which create too much stress and competition.

Thoug evidence seems to suggest a definitive disillusionment in Hong Kong, some experts caution against interpreting the latest news as another wave of emigration.

“It’s true the number of people moving abroad has increased, but it's because the global economy is sluggish, whereas Hong Kong is near China so everybody else thinks that it has better prospects and a more active economic environment,” says attorney Huang Shuyun.

Indeed, some of her clients even gave up their U.S. citizenship now that the country taxes its citizens’ gains abroad. While the West continues to struggle to pull itself out of crisis, Hong Kong has a solid economy and perhaps the world’s simplest and most transparent tax system. There will always be people leaving Hong Kong, Huang says, but plenty of new people coming too.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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