Before Hong Kong’s so-called Umbrella Revolution started this past summer, Vancouver-area realtor Winfield Yan had been busy with clients based there.
“I already made a few deals with Hong Kong people,” Yan related in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight.
There’s a young couple in their 30s and with kids. They’ve bought a house in Vancouver for almost $1 million. They’re already here and staying for good in Canada.
Another couple is in their 50s. They’re also looking for a house in Vancouver. They have a budget of about $1 million. When they relocate from Hong Kong, they plan to stay.
But this isn’t exactly a repeat of the exodus from Hong Kong in the years leading up to the 1997 handover of the then British colony to China.
According to a bulletin prepared by the Metro Vancouver regional district about the 2001 census, 44,700 immigrants from Hong Kong came to the Lower Mainland between 1991 and 1996. The number fell to 15,700 between 1996 and 2001.
In a separate interview, Urban Futures economist Ryan Berlin told the Straight by phone that in the last decade, migration from Hong Kong to Canada overall averaged only 450 a year.
Yan’s clients were actually part of the early to mid-90s, pre-China handover migration to Canada.
In the case of the young couple, they were raised and educated in Canada, and later went to Hong Kong to work. The older couple, also originally from Hong Kong, came to Vancouver, bought a house, sold it after a number of years, and returned to Hong Kong to pursue their professions.
“They were already here when they were young, or they were here before,” he said.
So they’re Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong. Now they’re coming back to Canada. According to Yan, they’d been thinking about it before the ongoing political unrest began in Hong Kong.
“I think they already noticed something changing,” Yan said.
Yan was a young boy when his family left Hong Kong for Canada in 1970. He has a natural interest in the affluent territory, and he’s on top of the news about what’s going on there.
“There’s too many people in Hong Kong,” said Yan, referring to Hong Kong’s seven million-plus people crammed on just over 1,000 square kilometres of land, making it one of the densest areas in the world.
“They want more space,” Yan said about his clients. “Hong Kong is already so small.”
That means pressure on services like transit and education.
“Education is also a problem because a lot of mainland Chinese go to Hong Kong and they take up the seats, and the younger kids have problems finding schools now, like even kindergarten or elementary, school, high school, university they have problems finding seats,” he said.
There are also economic reasons. Rich mainland Chinese are also buying up precious real estate in Hong Kong, edging out some locals from the market.
“Everything is very expensive to live in Hong Kong,” Yan said.
So even before China began to face a challenge from Hong Kong protesters about its decision to vet candidates for the territory’s next leader in 2017, a number of Canadians with roots in Hong Kong have started coming back to North America, according to Yan.
Yan has observed this happening “just within the last year”, and he expects more to come.
Yan said: “I think people are fed up with what’s happening in Hong Kong.”
As for other Hong Kong residents, Yan said that it’s difficult to say whether they’re also thinking about Canada.
“Not for the new immigrants because I think right now, for immigrants, it’s very hard to get into Canada,” Yan said. “It’s mostly the ones that came before. I see there’s limited numbers, even though there were lot of immigrants who came to Canada before.”