Mr Wong’s anxiety grew every time he watched videos or news footage of police firing tear gas and wrestling with protesters in Hong Kong, and has prompted him to seriously consider a way out for his family – emigration.
The 46-year-old education professional witnessed the 1997 handover to China, the boom and bust in the city, and what he said was an increasing penetration of mainland Chinese culture and waning freedom in Hong Kong.
For Wong, who did not want to give his first name, the extradition bill protests finally ended his desire to stay in the place where he was born, grew up and started a family.
“The current political climate is not peaceful, and the Hong Kong I know is very different from what it was before the handover,” he said. “Emigration is a serious decision, and one I have to think about for my children’s future as well.”
Wong is among a growing number of Hong Kong people considering leaving the city for good, a decision sparked by the ongoing political unrest.
One migration consulting agency told the Post last week that the number of inquiries Hong Kong people made in relation to emigration had jumped 50 per cent since June, compared with previous months, while another had seen a tenfold increase in inquiries.
“It is a phenomenon. I got several hundred inquiries the day after the June 12 protest, and since then, my five sales colleagues have been answering inquiries from 9am to 11pm every day,” said Andrew Lo, founder of immigration consultancy firm, Anlex.
“From our conversations, they show people do not trust the government, have a strong fear of continuing to live in the city, and have lost hope for the future of Hong Kong. It’s quite sad.”
Paul Bernadou, who set up the agency in Hong Kong that bears his name in 1993, said the number of inquiries had jumped 50 per cent since June, with many people citing the current political climate as a reason to relocate.
Since June, the city has been fraught with tension, with several massive protest marches, the two largest of which organisers claimed drew 1 million and 2 million people onto the streets.
On several occasions, protesters and the police have fought battles after the marches ended.
There is also no end in sight, with protesters, mainly younger people, organising further marches in local communities running into August. Their aim is to push Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to meet their demands, which include the withdrawal of the now-suspended bill, and retracting the reference of riot to the June 12 protest.
Although she suspended the bill on June 15, and subsequently called it “dead,” Lam has refused to withdraw it completely. The bill would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition deal, including mainland China.
Wong, like other protesters who joined the marches, was opposed to the bill because he said the two legal systems were not compatible.
What bothered him was the way the government pushed the bill forward, with only 20 days of public consultation, significantly less than the 90-day consultation on a bill to improve animal rights.
Lam has admitted the way her administration handled the legislation was wrong and apologised to the people.
“Part of the disappointment is the hard push of the pro-Beijing policy,” Wong said. “We have more and more mainland elements seeping into Hong Kong since the handover: more use of simplified characters, more Mandarin speakers, more mainland Chinese students, even signboards on top of buildings along Victoria Harbour are mainland brands.
“I am not tolerant enough of these things.”
According to Bernadou, Canada and Australia are the countries his clients are most interested in. Both are relatively safe, and have a lower cost of living, lower property prices, more good schools and universities, and large immigrant populations from Hong Kong.
“There is a lot of discomfort with the political issue,” Bernadou said. “Hong Kong people take a long-term view for the future of their children, and even grandchildren.”
In Wong’s case, he wants his children, aged 6 and 9, to grow up and be educated in a more stable environment, such as Canada.
Lo, of Anlex, said that among those who asked about migration products, there was a woman in her 70s who was desperate to relocate abroad with her grandchildren, but who had difficulty fulfilling certain requirements, such as financial resources.
“People should pause and think thoroughly before making a decision, and beware of unscrupulous agencies,” he said.
According to the Canadian consulate general in Hong Kong, the number of Hongkongers granted permanent resident visas for the country jumped 12.13 per cent to 1,525 last year, while the number of applications also rose 7.4 per cent to 1,677 from the previous year.
Taiwan emerged as a popular destination as well, with the number of people from Hong Kong and Macau emigrating there 10.6 per cent higher than 2017, at 1,267 last year, according to the island’s Immigration Department.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which is in charge of dealings with China, last week for the first time in years tried to entice new Hong Kong graduates on social media to migrate to the self-ruled island.
Still, there are some younger people who do not consider emigration an option. Florence Lam, a 21-year-old nursing student and a regular at protests, is one of them.
“I used to think I could move out of Hong Kong because the ‘one country, two systems’ policy will expire in 2047. By that time, I will be in middle age,” she said. “But the anti-bill movement woke me up, and I am very determined to stay here to protect my home city.”
She was worried about her future because she said she would be competing with many mainland Chinese graduates in the city for jobs, and did not think she could afford to buy her own flat, based on the existing prices.
Putting his thoughts about emigration into action is a quandary for Wong, who expects to leave behind his Hong Kong roots and many other things, start from scratch in a foreign country, a process that will be emotionally difficult for his family.