(Australian Associated Press)
Australia has emerged as a preferred destination for Hong Kongers hoping to leave the territory amid ongoing violent demonstrations which have caused chaos and raised fears of a military intervention by Beijing.
John Hu, principal consultant of John Hu Migration Consulting, said immigration inquiries had quadrupled since the protests escalated four months ago.
His firm was receiving thousands of callers a month and Australia and Canada were the top two destinations.
“Hong Kong is a good place to make money but not a good place to live,” he said from his office in the Wanchai business district.
“I’m in a dilemma. I’m sad on one side but my business is booming.”
He said the Australian climate, time zone – just three hours ahead – family ties and the education system were key attractions with most looking to emigrate falling within the 25-to-35 age bracket.
“Many are in IT or health, such as nurses,” he said.
“Others include families looking for a better future for their children.”
About 96,000 people from Hong Kong live in Australia, while 100,000 Australians are living in Hong Kong where more than 600 Australian businesses have a presence.
At least a third of Hong Kong’s 7.4 million people are thinking of leaving, a September survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong found.
Of the them, 17.5 per cent want to go to Canada where the size of the local Hong Kong population is more than double than in Australia.
A further 13.8 per cent would prefer to move to Australia followed by Taiwan at 11 per cent, the UK on 6.1 per cent, then Malaysia, Singapore, the United States and Japan.
Anti-government demonstrations have turned violent in recent months.
Protest numbers that peaked at about two million have subsided but a hardcore rump have trashed railway stations and businesses have been set alight amid demands for democracy and independence from Beijing.
Two protesters, including a 14-year-old boy, have been shot and many people beaten by police who have been sharply criticised for their handling of the crisis.
Founder and principal of Drakon Associates Huw Watkin said the worsening security situation in Hong Kong was unlikely to improve over the short-to-medium term.
“Hong Kong is no stranger to anti-government protests. But the this year it has become ugly and given the ties that many Hong Kong people have enjoyed with Australia since the handover from Britain in 1997, it’s not surprising so many want to head there,” he said.
The Australian consulate in Hong Kong has warned there was an ongoing risk of violent clashes, noting the authorities have invoked emergency laws and further measures could be introduced at short notice.
“Exercise a high degree of caution in Hong Kong,” it said.
“There is a high risk of violent confrontation between protesters and police, or criminally-linked individuals. The risk is greater at night, on weekends and public holidays.”