Hong Kong woos Chinese mainlanders eager for more cash and freedom

Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free

For entrepreneur Luan Yi, leaving the Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen for Hong Kong was a no-brainer, in part because of the territory’s more open market and looser rules on internet access.

In Hong Kong, it is easier to use YouTube, which is virtually blocked in the mainland, to promote his work. “As a content creator I feel like Hong Kong . . . is a good place to stimulate creativity,” said Luan, who runs a media production and software development company in the city.

The 30-year-old is one of tens of thousands of people from mainland China who have secured a visa to live and work in Hong Kong, which is trying to maintain its allure in the wake of the pandemic and a political crackdown. Strict rules govern movement within China and its territories, which means Chinese citizens do not have automatic residency rights in Hong Kong.

Since the beginning of 2023, Hong Kong authorities have approved visas for more than 93,600 people from mainland China, many of them young professionals from cities such as Shenzhen and Shanghai.

At a talent conference this month organised by Hong Kong authorities, city leader John Lee said more than 120,000 people, including mainlanders, had settled in Hong Kong since late 2022 under the territory’s talent admission schemes. “Many more will follow. Of that, I am confident,” he said.

“In Hong Kong you don’t just get world-class work opportunities — you get a satisfying life,” Lee added. “Hong Kong is bestowed with prime business prospects . . . [and] the only place in the world where the global advantage and China advantage come together in a single city.”

Hong Kong has offered multiple visa schemes for overseas and mainland Chinese applicants. About 102,600 people applied for the territory’s two main entry schemes for mainlanders in 2023, a jump of more than 240 per cent from a year earlier, when borders were closed. More than 32,000 of those applicants received visas.

Nearly all of the 72,000 applicants for the separate “top talent” scheme rolled out in late 2022 — which is open to anyone from the mainland or overseas with a bachelors degree from a top university or with an annual income of at least HK$2.5mn ($320,000) — were from mainland China. More than 94 per cent of the 58,895 approvals were for people from the mainland.

For Chinese people, the attractions are clear. Amid an economic slowdown and tightening political control in the mainland, Hong Kong offers higher salaries, lower taxes and greater relative freedom. While YouTube had to take down links to a Hong Kong protest song after a court ruling, the service remains widely available in the territory.

In Shanghai, the Hong Kong migration schemes have been widely discussed among the city’s middle class after a severe Covid-19 lockdown and stricter political environment.

For those who cannot gain access under schemes specifically targeting mainlanders, there are other options.

The capital investment immigration scheme, open since March to those willing to invest HK$30mn in the city, does not target mainlanders but is open to mainlanders who are permanent residents in a foreign country.

In turn, residency of, for example, the Pacific island of Vanuatu can be obtained in a matter of weeks, said Sally Cheung, an executive district director at Hong Kong-based Kingkey Family Office. The whole package, including applications and passports, for a family of four costs about Rmb170,000 ($23,000), she said.

Many mainland Chinese clients “basically see no downside in getting on the path to get Hong Kong residency”, said Cheung. While a lot of people have moved to Singapore in recent years, strong transport links and the proximity to the mainland are a bonus, she said.

Others who are cognisant of Hong Kong’s weak markets and recent job cuts for bankers remain cautious.

Grace, a 28-year-old banker who was laid off in Shenzhen last year, secured a visa for Hong Kong but ultimately did not move. She stayed to work at the wealth management unit of a European bank in Shenzhen.

“If the market sentiment in Hong Kong improves over the next year or so, it’d actually still be very attractive to me to move and work there,” she said.

Not all mainlanders choose to stay in Hong Kong. Gao, a 34-year-old commodities analyst, has in recent months relocated to Singapore. “I had thought about keeping and [extending] my Hong Kong visa status . . . but it’s too troublesome,” said Gao. “Will all of those efforts pay off . . . and is a Hong Kong visa really that important? I couldn’t decide which is better.”

Luan, who did his masters degree in the US, plans to be in Hong Kong for the long run, even outlining his 1-year-old child’s future education in the city. Hong Kong’s “more internationalised” syllabus might offer the child “wider exposure”.

“Hong Kong still has a lot of attractiveness,” he said. “I have now started a company in Hong Kong . . . I hope to be in Hong Kong for the long run.”

Additional reporting by Andy Lin in Hong Kong and Nic Fildes in Sydney


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.