Too soon to tell if Hong Kong protests will spark new wave of immigration to Vancouver, observers say

Despite protests causing turmoil in Hong Kong, Vancouverites shouldn’t expect any new waves of immigration just yet, observers say. 

Hong Kong protester attends a rally Source: Leung Ching Yau Alex

It's too early to say whether the current upheaval in Hong Kong will lead to a second wave of immigration to Vancouver, local observers say.

But if there is a second wave, observers agree it's unlikely to be as large as the wave that swept in 44,700 immigrants from Hong Kong in the lead-up to China's repossession of the city.

“If there is a second wave of immigration (to Vancouver), it won’t be as strong as the last one,” said UBC’s Chinese intellectual history professor Josephine Chiu-Duke.

While there was an increasing number of people immigrating from Hong Kong to Vancouver during the early 1990s, those numbers dropped to 15,700 the years following sovereignty. 

At the time, many middle-class citizens who tried to leave Hong Kong couldn't secure a job in Canada and had to return, Chiu-Duke noted. Unless the Canadian government is willing to grant special status and opportunities for people from Hong Kong coming into the country, civilians probably wouldn’t rush out of the region, she said.

Tsuriel (Tsur) Somerville, UBC Sauder’s real estate finance professor, explained that after the surge of immigration from Hong Kong to Vancouver from 1986-1997, the numbers have dropped significantly.

“There were people who left, certain stayed, so some people may reconsider their options,” said Somerville. “In the last 10-20 years, Hong Kong’s numbers (of people moving to Vancouver) have dropped dramatically and Mainland China’s immigration number increased dramatically,” he added.

That assessment is reflected in the stats. In 2011, a study revealed that 74 per cent luxury homes in Richmond and Vancouver’s West Side were Mainland Chinese, and not from Hong Kong.

BC Real Estate Association’s chief economist Cameron Muir says he didn’t receive any calls from Hong Kong residents inquiring about local property this week in the midst of the protests.

Somerville says it’s hard to tell if the events in Hong Kong will cause another change in demographics and real estate in Vancouver. People who can move their funds for real estate have already have done so, he added.  Now, it’s more about whether or not they’ll apply for residency.

But South China Morning Post’s former international editor Ian Young says Hong Kong has already seen a long period of societal tension, and people may not be prompted to leave just yet.

“There’s a lot of Canadians -- approximately 300,000 people -- living in Hong Kong. There’s potential that they might leave, but nothing can be said at this stage,” he said.

UBC Hong Kong Students' Association president Patricia Poon says she still believes many citizens and immigrants will remain in Hong Kong, given the city's status as an economic and financial hub. 

“The news outlets like to compare this situation to the Jasmine Revolution or Tiananmen, which is absurd,” said Poon. “Western media has a habit of highlighting the use of tear gas, but in truth it is the most peaceful protest so far.”
If the struggle between the government and citizens worsens, there’s a possibility for the situation to change, but “right now, they (Hong Kong citizens) will prepare but not take action,” Chiu-Duke said. 

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