The Hong Kong government has admitted the city is facing brain drain due to stringent measures to control the pandemic. While Hong Kong has over the years earned a reputation for being an attractive hub to the expatriate community, in recent times, due to strict COVID-19 measures, many have opted to relocate from the city. According to a report on the South China Morning Post , chief executive Carrie Lam said  to the press yesterday that after having a virtual meeting with more than 130 diplomats and business leaders on Tuesday, she fully understands their anxiety and concerns, adding that the phenomenon of business executive leaving the city was an indisputable fact.

However, Lam shared that although Hong Kong is facing a mass exodus of expatriates and local Hongkongers, Hong Kong remains an attractive place for talent. The article also reported Lam stating it was “hard to tell” whether resuming quarantine-free travel with mainland China should be prioritised over opening up to the rest of the world given both held priority. She said, Hong Kong hopes to “resume personnel exchanges with the mainland and overseas at the same time” but it should be launched gradually based on the situation.

Meanwhile, just last week, the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (EuroCham) said the ongoing “Zero-Covid" strategy has taken a toll on Hong Kong's business community. According to EuroCham's recent survey "Impact of COVID-19 on the Business Community", 25% of respondents said they will close their operations in Hong Kong in the upcoming 12 months, and 24% said they will partially relocate their business to other cities. Only 17% said they will remain in the city, with the remaining 34% saying they were unsure about their future.

In addition to the brain drain, a report from Ming Pao said expatriates are stepping up their efforts to leave the city. The report quoted recruitment agency Robert Walters that Hong Kong has become an unattractive city from the best place for expatriates to pursue their careers in just five years. The agency said businesses in Hong Kong have fewer employees to choose from, an they have been struggling to recruit Hongkongers living abroad and talent from China to come to the city. Additionally, some financial institutions need to relaunch extra subsidies to lure overseas talent to work in Hong Kong, a common practice among Hong Kong businesses in the 1980s to 1990s where the city was facing another exodus at that time.

In a prior conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Helen Duffy, APAC CEO of executive search firm Grace Blue  shared that Hong Kong’s Zero COVID approach, which substantially limits travelling, means talent currently overseas is also cautious on accepting any offer to relocate to Hong Kong.

“It is not unusual to see those from overseas actively look for opportunities back home or in other countries in APAC. There have been several regional MDs temporarily moving their families abroad, so they reclaim their travel freedom and can visit their offices spread across the region,” said Duffy.

Meanwhile, IAB Hong Kong also shared that it has seen more foreign executives in the digital marketing industry leaving the country than those relocating in Hong Kong. A silver lining however is that these moves are temporary with many planning to return when border measures ease up and the outbreak passes. IAB Hong Kong also shared that on a local front, the exodus of foreign talent has seen many locals rise up through promotions.

Related articles
EuroCham study: 25% plan to close ops in HK as talent woes ensue
European business leaders say quarantine measures could harm HK's international business hub status
HK to relax flight ban and quarantine, social distancing to ease in 3 phases

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