The 58-year-old office manager travelled to London with her two sisters and their children. Yet Vera and her family are not alone. Thousands of people are taking similar flights, part of a migration wave that has shocked even those who have made it their business to assist Hong Kong citizens to live and invest overseas.
The spark was a decision taken by the British government in the middle of last year when it pledged a path to citizenship for up to 3m Hong Kong residents who hold or are eligible for a British National (Overseas) passport. The UK gave Hong Kong citizens the passport at the time of the 1997 handover to China — a consolation prize and travel document which implied, more than it actually provided, a link to Britain. Before last July it had not included a right to stay in the UK. Now it does.
The economic benefits of the scheme for the UK have been central to the government’s message. The Centre for Economics and Business Research, a think-tank, predicts an economic boost of between £12bn and £40bn depending on the numbers of those eligible who actually come to the UK over the next five years. The estimate is based on each new arrival’s average economic productivity were they to join the labour force.
Douglas McWilliams, deputy chair of the CEBR, thinks those 2020 calculations are now an underestimate. “The most important thing we didn’t predict is really heavy investment in the London property market,” McWilliams says. “We assumed there would be some transfer of wealth but we didn’t take that into account.”