Hong-Kong: Life after the COVID crisis and political unrest

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Published on 2020-09-30 at 12:42
Hong-Kong, a popular expat destination, has lost three points on AXA's Wellness Index Survey 2020. Not only did Hong-Kong have to deal with the COVID-19 sanitary crisis, but also with episodes of political unrest. While none of the above have been settled yet, is Hong-Kong still an attractive destination for expats?

Hong Kong, a popular expat destination, has always performed well on quality of life surveys. However, the last AXA Wellness Index 2020 indicates a decline in the quality of life in the region. Hong Kong which consistently performs better on this scale than Macau and the mainland Greater Bay Area has fallen below both regions.

Hong-Kong has been through a lot over the past year. After the ongoing political unrest which has caused a lot of expats to leave, the COVID-19 sanitary crisis has paralyzed the region and left it in severe economic certainty. Last year, Hong-Kong was ranked 15th best expat destination by HSBC Expat. With economic prosperity being an important factor in expats' decision to move to Hong-Kong, is the region still an attractive destination for expats?

Last year, expats were leaving Hong Kong en masse as schools closed for a year and protests grew more violent between protesters and the police. In 2019, around 40% of Japanese expats left Hong-Kong, Australian expats also flocked back to their home country because of the protests. Relocation companies found in Hong Kong reported having seen an increase of up to 40% in requests for repatriation.

And that was before the COVID-19 sanitary crisis. During the COVID-19 first wave in Hong Kong, a lot more expats decided to leave. Especially entrepreneurs who saw their numbers plummet. Businesses could not open as usual anymore. Hong Kong was losing all its appeal.

In February this year, the Hong-Kong government acknowledged it was in recession. In 2019, the GDP shrinked by 1.2%. The trade sector was affected by a drop in sales from 8.1% to 3.7%. The Hong Kong Retail Management Association (HKRMA) paints an even darker picture. It claims, 97% of its members said they have suffered commercial losses.

And a lot of these business owners are expats, like David McEwan, owner of a bar in the central district of Hong Kong. He says, the demonstrations slowed down his business. “Roadblocks, strong police presence [...] people tend to go home straight after work, instead of going out for a drink. It's frustrating." (cnbc.com) The coronavirus has only amplified the phenomenon.

At the time, entrepreneurs and professionals were looking to Singapore. But today, Singapore seems to be clamping down on foreign hires and asking companies to favor local talent which will contribute to the new landscaping of the expat population in this part of the world.