Since the Australian government introduced a specially tailored visa scheme leading to permanent residence in 2020, thousands of Hongkongers have applied for graduate work visas. The new law was introduced in response to Beijing’s imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong, banning acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers.
In 2020-21, there were approximately 1,400 applicants for postgraduate work-opportunities in Australia, double the usual number of previous years. A human resources expert said that while it was normal for overseas graduates to stay on to work and gain international exposure, Hong Kong’s talent pool would shrink if more graduates chose to put down roots overseas.
In addition to Australia and Britain, Canada also has eased its entry rules for Hongkongers, including a graduate work scheme that targets recent graduates from local institutions. Each year, about 3,000 Hong Kong students obtain visas to study in Australia. Those who apply for the graduate work scheme must be degree holders of Australian institutions who held student visas in the last six months. It generally takes five to 11 months for applications to be processed and successful applicants receive five-year visas compared with 18 months for applicants from elsewhere.
According to a spokeswoman for Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, Hongkongers who have completed two years of full-time study at an Australian educational institution and then lived in the country for at least three or four years may be eligible to apply for permanent residence.
The Australian government acknowledged that migration was key to addressing the country’s labour shortage and stimulating economic activity, according to a statement by a spokesperson for the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. Ellen Wang, founder of migration agent Austudylink, said more Hongkongers graduating from Australian universities were choosing to stay behind instead of returning to Hong Kong. “They need to stay in Australia for just three or four years to get permanent residence,” she said. “Applying for graduate work visas is easy as applicants do not have to secure a job.”
Australia’s preferential treatment had also led mature students to move to Australia with their families, she said. The number of Hong Kong students aged 35 and above going to Australia rose from around 150 annually to 250 over the past two years. The number of their dependents went up from 20 to 70 a year. Wang said the children of mature students paid discounted tuition fees for attending government schools except in Western Australia, where they did not pay fees.
Britain’s migration scheme has attracted more Hongkongers holding special visas, and those with children do not pay fees as public school education there is free. Veteran human resources consultant Alexa Chow Yee-ping cautioned that it would be a blow to Hong Kong’s talent pool if many young graduates chose to remain overseas.
“If Hong Kong’s opportunities allow them to have a brighter future, with better pay for example, they would of course come back,” she said. “The government must maintain good economic growth to let Hong Kong become a first-class international city.”
With Hong Kong’s government embarking on a major drive to attract talent, Chow said there should be more emphasis on prospects for career development, because the city lost out to overseas destinations in terms of living space.
But she noted that some Hong Kong overseas graduates were staying away for political reasons, and it would be important to lure them home gradually.
Recalling that Hongkongers who emigrated before the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997 returned once they found it was still free and stable, she said: “It may take time if we want them to come back.”