Youth I.D.E.A.S. 57


To Stay or To Leave? A Critical Question for Good Governance

30 January, 2021



Emigration is not a new phenomenon to Hong Kong. During recent decades there have been a few waves of emigration, mainly due to the city’s special social background (e.g. the negotiations in the early 1980s about its future, and subsequent political disputes and crises of confidence).


The recent spates of social unrest sparked by the proposed extradition legislation, and coupled with other issues, have revealed many unresolved and deep-rooted tensions within Hong Kong society. This has triggered people’s anxiety about the city’s future. A survey by the CUHK in September 2020 noted that 43.9% of respondents would emigrate if they had the chance, up from 33.1% in 2017[1]. Most of the reasons were related to the governance of the HKSAR Government, and Hong Kong’s overall political atmosphere.


There are many factors, both social and personal, that contribute to the reasoning to stay or leave a home city. Whatever factor/s ultimately decide the outcome, confidence in future stability or prosperity is important; good governance plays a significant role.


The social unrest of the city in recent years has heavily impacted the governance of the HKSAR Government. Young people were widely understood to be major participants, expressing sadness, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. Young people’s sense of belonging to Hong Kong might be adversely affected if the situation continues or deteriorates; thoughts of leaving the city cannot be ruled out. While the city becomes more divided, the struggles and needs of young people who opt to stay and live in the city deserve attention as well.


Young people have a sense of belonging to[2], and wanting a better[3], Hong Kong. With the city under tremendous difficulty, which has never been seen before, the spotlight is now on the inclination of youth to stay or leave. The deficiency of the HKSAR Government’s governance highlighted by the issue of whether the youth stay or leave is also worth studying.


In light of the recent social unrests of the city, this research looked at the main considerations of youth in Hong Kong affecting the decision to stay or leave, and their concerns and needs given the current situation. This research aimed to propose key insights as to how the Government and wider society could progress through the current difficulty.


In conducting this research, data was collected between October and December 2020 through: an on-site survey of 525 young people (aged 18 to 34); parallel case interviews with 17 similar individuals (8 chose to emigrate, 9 chose to stay), and research-exclusive interviews with 5 academics and experts.



  1. The recent spates of social unrest have triggered an atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety about Hong Kong’s future and a new wave of emigration seems to be emerging. The underlying issues involve governance and a lack of confidence in the future of the city. The HKSAR Government should pay attention to this latest wave of emigration.
  2. Society is dissatisfied with Government policies and its poor performance in handling public opinion that have led to increases in public grievances. As society gets more complicated, there is a pressing need for the Government to improve its explanation of policies and its understanding of different public voices.
  3. More than forty percent of respondents were without hope in Hong Kong’s future; in particular those who had a plan to leave the city. Youth are our future. The Government has a responsibility to create hope in the future for youth, providing them with the reason to stay and take part in creating a better future.
  4. Talent mobility is becoming more common. Respondents with an educational degree or above, or those in work with managerial or professional backgrounds, are more likely to consider emigrating. In youths’ perception, however, the Government is not being active enough in retaining talent which is unfavorable for the sustainability of Hong Kong.
  5. Young people aspire to contribute to Hong Kong. The Government and society should treasure its youths’ passion to serve the city by exploring more opportunities for the youth to more fully make use of their enthusiasm and potential.



  1. Launch a territory-wide campaign to collect the dreams and vision of youth about Hong Kong for the next ten years.
  2. Set up a high-level centralised government mechanism for handling public opinions.
  3. Grasp every opportunity to communicate with young people.





[1] Press Release by The Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (6 October 2020).

[2] HKFYG. (2018). YI033. “Nurturing Talent for Governance” (Aug. 2018). The study noted that 69.1% of the young respondents agreed with the notion that “you have a sense of belonging to Hong Kong”.

[3] HKFYG. (2017). YI023. “Young People’s Views on Togetherness” (Jun. 2017). The study noted that 97.6% of the young respondents agreed with the notion that “you want Hong Kong to become better”.