But 99 per cent of respondents said they had no plans to live in Hong Kong again.
The UK introduced the pathway to citizenship in 2020 in response to Beijing’s promulgation of the national security law in Hong Kong. The British government has granted more than 166,000 visas through the scheme as of March this year.
Under the BN(O) scheme, Lau and his family moved to the UK in February last year over concerns about the political situation in Hong Kong. Before they left, Lau and his wife lived in Tai Po and together earned about HK$70,000 (US$8,900) a month. The pair had also hired a domestic helper to care for their three-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter.
Lau, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration, used to make about HK$35,000 shooting and editing wedding videos. But the couple halved their household income after they moved to Dewsbury when Lau took over caring for their children.
He was unemployed for their first year in the UK and currently works one day a week as a courier, while also looking for part-time jobs. But Lau said that working full time would mean using up most of his salary to hire someone to look after their children.
His wife was able to transfer her marketing job at a clothing company from Hong Kong to the UK, with her salary covering the monthly rent of £1,100 (US$1,380) for their three-bedroom, semi-detached house and the rest of their living costs.
The survey found that four out of 10 BN(O) visa holders interviewed felt their financial situation was worse because of higher-than-anticipated living costs in the UK.
Lau said that while the greater expenses had not drained the family’s savings, they could not afford the same lifestyle they enjoyed in Hong Kong, where they ate out several times a week and made frequent trips to the cinema or karaoke bars.
The hardest part about starting over was that his small circle of friends, all Hongkongers, lived about an hour’s drive away, he added.
“I talk with some British parents at school, but I wouldn’t call them friends yet,” he said.
Lau planned to return to work once his son was old enough to enrol in primary school, but he admitted he was unlikely to find the same job he held in Hong Kong.
“Most of the Hongkongers I know work [minimum wage jobs] as couriers, in factories, driving buses or Uber, or in restaurants,” he said.
He added many Hongkongers in the UK had accepted that starting over in a new country required sacrifices and had taken work that was a step down from their higher-earning jobs back home.
But Lau felt his life had improved in many ways, saying he spent more time with his family and that his children would now receive a better education.
His daughter had learned more in a year in the UK than she had in Hong Kong, he said. She was under less academic pressure, did not have homework assigned and was spared her previous three-hour daily school commute, he added.
Walter Cheung, 59, was another Hongkonger who left for the UK over concerns about the political situation in the city in the aftermath of the 2019 anti-government protests.
Moving to London in 2021, Cheung went from being a server at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong to working as a food packer and later a waiter at a restaurant.
“I don’t care [that it is a step backwards]. In Hong Kong, I would regularly work overtime, with no extra pay,” he said. “Here, I’m asked if I want overtime and I’m paid for it.”
Cheung added that the work-life balance offered by his current job had allowed for his health to improve. “I am eating better and have lost 7kg [15.4lbs],” he said.
He also expressed surprise that Wednesday’s survey had found that half of respondents were unemployed, arguing that finding work was easy in the country and public services helped residents to find jobs.
UK government data showed that the employment rate in London stood at 95 per cent, compared with a national average of 75 per cent.
Paul Leung, a freelance parcel delivery driver in Manchester, also said his quality of life had improved despite leaving his job as a warehouse manager in Hong Kong to move to the UK in 2020.
The 30-year-old said he previously worked from 8.30am to 5.30pm and spent most of his time at the office. He now made about 120 deliveries a day while on the clock from 8am to 6pm.
“If you were to compare this to my job in Hong Kong, I think the difficult part is that it gets dark early in the United Kingdom now and the temperature outside is quite chilly,” he said. “You really have to get used to that. My job in Hong Kong had a different kind of difficulty, where I always used my brain.”
Leung said he planned to remain in the country, pointing to Hong Kong’s changing political climate, its fast pace of living and the stressful education system his child would face.
He was now earning about HK$30,000 a month, up from the roughly HK$20,000 he made in Hong Kong, and could spend more time with his wife and their 10-month-old son as he no longer had to worry about working overtime, he said.
While Leung said Manchester had fewer entertainment options for him than Hong Kong, the environment was better and he felt happier just looking at the scenery.
The father said that after lowering his expectations about his job prospects and adapting to his new career, he would focus on making enough money for his family.
“I need to look after my family, I need to accept this. It is not like I can starve to death,” he said. “You have to adapt to people’s culture when you go to another country. You also need to accept new things when you leave your own comfort zone.”