More than half of Hong Kong professionals have considered leaving the city in the near future, a survey conducted by a global recruitment consultancy has found.

The survey, which was conducted by consultancy Robert Walters, found that 52.3 per cent of professionals were considering leaving Hong Kong. More than 15 per cent of respondents planned to “leave as soon as possible,” while 36.7 per cent were considering a move within three to five years.

Central Business Cityview
People crossing the road in Central district, Hong Kong. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Among those who expressed an interest in working overseas, 51 per cent were millennials aged 27 to 42.

“The desire to work overseas and gain international experience is not new, especially among young people, but it’s concerning to see such a large percentage of Hong Kong professionals considering leaving the city,” John Mullally, managing director at Robert Walters Hong Kong said in a press release issued last Friday.

Mullally also said that Hong Kong employers should ensure they were “doing everything [they] can” to retain talent.

According to the survey, among those considering leaving the city, 96 per cent had already taken steps to prepare for work abroad. Forty per cent said they had applied for overseas roles, while 27 per cent had looked for internal transfer opportunities.

The survey interviewed 107 professionals in Hong Kong across various industries, including tech, finance, and construction.

Hong Kong city view landscape
The Hong Kong skyline in September 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Mullally said employers should better understand workers’ expectations to retain talent, especially in times of economic uncertainty.

“Moving abroad is not an easy decision,” Mullally said. “If what professionals want is to gain international experience for career growth or broaden their minds, there are employers that can facilitate this.”

Over the past three years, Hong Kong has seen exodus of local families and expats amid strict Covid-19 restrictions and following the establishment of national security law.

According to the 2022 policy address, the local workforce dropped by 140,000 from the second quarter of 2020 to the same period in 2022.

Responding to a lawmaker’s questions last November, Secretary for Labour and Social Welfare Chris Sun, said that most people leaving the local workforce were aged 25 to 39. Associate professionals, service and sales workers, and professionals experienced the greatest losses of manpower.

Kevin Yeung Chris Sun Chan Ka-lai Lee Tsz-chun Mirror
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun (middle). Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

“One of the major reasons for the decline in local labour force over the past two years is the significant reduction in people inflow caused by the global epidemic,” the labour chief said. At the time, Covid-19 restrictions remained in place.

According to Britain’s Home Office, as of February, some 144,500 people had left Hong Kong and moved to the UK in the two years since London launched a visa route for holders of British National (Overseas) passports (BNO) in the wake of the national security law.

Among the BNO visa holders, 69 per cent were educated to degree-level or higher, and 39 per cent were professionals, the Home Office revealed in a survey released last February.

Most ‘top talent’ from mainland China

To try and plug growing gaps in Hong Kong’s shrinking local workforce, leader John Lee introduced a series of schemes to attract talent in his maiden Policy Address last year, including a new visa under the Top Talent Pass Scheme to attract top university graduates and high earners.

Central working people
People cross street in Central district. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Launched on December 28 last year, the scheme had received over 41,000 applications as of July 31, among which 30,183 people have been granted visas, the Immigration Department told HKFP on Wednesday.

Ninety-five per cent of top talent visa holders were mainland Chinese, while only 1 per cent were from Canada and 1 per cent from the US.

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Irene Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press and has an interest in covering political and social change. She previously worked at Initium Media as chief editor for Hong Kong news and was a community organiser at the Society for Community Organisation serving the underprivileged. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Fudan University and a master’s degree in social work from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Irene is the recipient of two Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) awards and three honourable mentions for her investigative, feature and video reporting. She also received a Human Rights Press Award for multimedia reporting and an honourable mention for feature writing.