RAY OF SUN­SHINE FROM THE EAST

Cit­i­zen­ship of­fer to 3m peo­ple from the trou­bled re­gion could pay div­i­dends to ‘global Bri­tain’ and its fu­ture growth, writes Tim Wal­lace

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page -

In the days af­ter the Brexit vote, Boris John­son wrote in these pages of his de­sire to re­open the UK to the world as “a truly global Bri­tain”. The coun­try sought a “new role”, he said, seek­ing to be “hu­mane, com­pas­sion­ate, prin­ci­pled – to do good around the world, and to ex­ploit growth mar­kets to the full”.

Much of this was pooh-poohed by Re­main­ers char­ac­ter­is­ing Brexit as an in­su­lar move, turn­ing the na­tion’s back on the rest of the world.

But this month the UK’s of­fer to al­low al­most three million peo­ple from Hong Kong to move to Bri­tain and take cit­i­zen­ship shows the slo­gan has mean­ing.

As far as “growth mar­kets” go, it could also help turn Bri­tain into just such an econ­omy. The Cen­tre for Eco­nomics and Busi­ness Re­search (CEBR) es­ti­mates that if one tenth of those el­i­gi­ble move to the UK, it could boost GDP by £12bn.

If the flow is sus­tained and 1m ar­rive over a five-year pe­riod, it could be more like £40bn. The an­a­lysts call the po­ten­tial ar­rivals “a ray of sun­shine”.

Hong Kong is one of the few na­tions which per­forms bet­ter than the UK on the World Bank’s hu­man cap­i­tal in­dex, which seeks to mea­sure ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment and the eco­nomic value built up in the pop­u­la­tion.

This plays out in the jobs mar­ket. Hong Kong’s pre-pan­demic un­em­ploy­ment rate of 3.1pc was even lower than Bri­tain’s ex­cep­tion­ally low 3.9pc. Av­er­age earn­ings were the equiv­a­lent of £1,856 per month at the end of last year, not too far be­low the UK’s av­er­age of £2,154.

The CEBR puts av­er­age pro­duc­tiv­ity per year at £69,900, which is higher than the UK level of around £60,500.

The high-pro­duc­tiv­ity in­dus­tries of fi­nance and in­sur­ance ac­count for 7.6pc of its em­ploy­ment ver­sus the UK’s 4pc. The City of Lon­don would wel­come a slice of the 293,000 work­ers in the ri­val fi­nan­cial hub.

Al­most one in six work in real es­tate and pro­fes­sional busi­ness ser­vices – im­por­tant in­dus­tries in the UK.

When the Prime Min­is­ter wants to “build, build, build”, it is handy that 8.6pc of Hong Kong’s work­ers are in con­struc­tion, just above the UK’s 7pc.

It seems un­likely that all 3m would re­lo­cate to Bri­tain, how­ever. Around 300,000 peo­ple in Hong Kong have Bri­tish Na­tional (Over­seas) pass­ports. The of­fer ex­tends to them and their de­pen­dants.

Last year 677,000 peo­ple mi­grated to the UK while 407,000 left. In this con­text tens or even hun­dreds of thou­sands of new ar­rivals would not rad­i­cally al­ter the usual flows.

It would change the mix, how­ever. Of­fi­cial fig­ures from 2016 in­di­cated there were around 9,000 Hong Kong na­tion­als res­i­dent in the UK, as well as 95,000 peo­ple who were born in Hong Kong, 74,000 of whom were Bri­tish cit­i­zens.

The CEBR notes that pro­test­ers, who might have the most need to flee, tend to be rel­a­tively young. This could mean they are less pro­duc­tive than av­er­age, but are also less re­liant on state ser­vices such as health­care and ed­u­ca­tion.

In one sense, it is not ideal tim­ing to ab­sorb new mi­grants into the jobs mar­ket. With millions of work­ers on fur­lough and un­em­ploy­ment ris­ing, a skills short­age is not a press­ing prob­lem. On the other hand, new ar­rivals bring their own de­mand to the econ­omy, as well as re­sources as work­ers. En­tre­pre­neur­ial mi­grants could bring par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant

‘Hong Kong is one of the few na­tions which per­forms bet­ter than the UK on the World Bank’s hu­man cap­i­tal in­dex’

ben­e­fits for the coun­try in the long term. Look to his­tory’s ex­am­ples. Al­most 30,000 Ugan­dan Asians, for in­stance, came to the UK af­ter their ex­pul­sion by Idi Amin in 1972 – a gloomy eco­nomic decade of stagfla­tion, oil price shocks and strikes in Bri­tain.

Ar­riv­ing of­ten with noth­ing but the clothes they stood in, they are now famed as an out­stand­ing ex­am­ple of suc­cess­ful in­te­gra­tion. The re­tail in­dus­try was rad­i­cally al­tered by the mi­grants, while busi­nesses such as Domino’s Pizza were founded by the new ar­rivals. Priti Pa­tel, the Home Sec­re­tary, was born to par­ents who moved from Uganda in the Six­ties. Speak­ing on the 40th an­niver­sary of the ex­pul­sion, Lord Popat, who ar­rived from Uganda in the UK a year ear­lier, praised their con­tri­bu­tion to the na­tion. “Today in Bri­tain, Ugan­dan Asians play a size­able role in the na­tional econ­omy,” he said in Par­lia­ment. “While ex­act fig­ures are not eas­ily avail­able for the im­pact of this one com­mu­nity, Bri­tons with south Asian roots today make up 2.5pc of the pop­u­la­tion but ac­count for 10pc of our na­tional out­put.”

Par­al­lels abound with Hong Kongers. Close Bri­tish ties be­fore and af­ter the han­dover in 1997, wide­spread use of English – just over half speak the lan­guage, with a far greater share of the younger gen­er­a­tion taught it at school – and sim­i­lar­i­ties in the le­gal sys­tem and el­e­ments of busi­ness prac­tice would all ease any move.

“Global Bri­tain” could quickly pay div­i­dends.

A demon­stra­tor holds a blank sign dur­ing a protest at the In­ter­na­tional Fi­nance Cen­tre in Hong Kong

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