What support do Hong Kong people need in the UK?

A few weeks ago, there were some social media feeds celebrating the 2nd anniversary of the opening of the Hong Kong British Nationality Overseas (BN(O)) scheme on the Home Office’s Twitter, such as “the UK is proud to have welcomed 144,500 people from Hong Kong”, “many Hong Kongers have said living in Britain is like coming home”.

Unfortunately not every Hong Konger in the UK feels at home.

A recent tragic story, that has been discussed a lot amongst the Hong Kong community, was that of a 27 year-old Hong Kong migrant who took her life after seven months in the UK. This news even spread to mainland China, but unfortunately was even less known here in the UK, where this heartbreaking tragedy took place.

First of all, I would like to offer her family and friends my deepest sympathy and condolences. The young lady, Fion Ho Yee-king was a master’s graduate who worked in a humanitarian organization and lived in Richmond. On the surface, It looked like everything was going her way, but in an interview to The Standard, a Hong Kong local newspaper, her brother said “(Fion) mentioned to me on September 7, 2022, that since July she was worried about her income and was not able to sustain her life in the UK and felt depressed.”

Because Hong Kongers in the UK are buying apartments and houses, it is a common misconception that they are well-educated – with more than half of them holding bachelor’s degrees or above, that they are totally fine and don’t need help. It is partially true, and some of them are doing very well. But for many, moving to a totally new environment, facing a different culture, lifestyle, practice, and cost of living worries, the stress is significant. I would to call it a “holistic living challenge” – a complete 360-degree change across social, financial, and cultural factors with the impact on mental health being particularly critical. Some of them, like Fion, even came to the UK alone, with no family members around. Some of them change to a new career, like one of my friends, who was as a social worker in Hong Kong, and is now a bus driver.

Why do I say mental health is a major concern? As a Hong Konger, I understand the mindset of Hong Kong people who are trying their best not to ask for help. We have a say in Cantonese 唔好麻煩到 (mm hao ma fan dao) which means don’t bother others. So, I think some of the people in the UK think we are shy. We just try to contribute to the community quietly, not to create trouble, especially since we know we are new here. For example, “what you can and cannot do” of BN(O) visa holders on the government website says you can work you can study, but “you cannot usually get most benefits (public funds).” Within the HK community, I never heard of any comments on this issue, even less complaints, as most Hong Kongers never think of public funds even in a very critical financial situation.

This “don’t bother others” mindset may push Hong Kongers to feel lonelier. I see political parties and NGOs putting their focus on political issues rather than the integration of Hong Kong people. But, based on research from a Hong Kong news outlet, the Chaser News (Chinese only), the Hong Kong respondents shared their top 5 most wanted and highly wanted support items:

1. Understanding of British social, political, and economic systems 59.2%
2. Understanding of local culture and living habits 56.7%
3. Mastering medical service information 53.6%
4. Integrating into the local community 49%
5. Improving English ability/practice English conversation 48.2%

We can see the support that Hong Kongers need is all about living and integration. I recommend that different parties, including the LibDems, should provide some assistance in helping Hong Kongers to recreate a local network and re-engage the local community. For Hong Kongers, I also recommend that we “connect and outreach” – sharing our knowledge, international insight, and solid experience from Asia to UK communities.

Fortunately, in the same research, nearly 70% of Hong Kong migrants said they are well-settled. But there are still around 30% of them who need more support, this is not an insignificant number in a rapidly growing community. I do not wish to see any more sad news being shared on the 3rd anniversary of the BN(O) visa scheme.

* Kevin Lam is a member of Chinese Liberal Democrats

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  • Merlene Emerson 1st Mar '23 - 1:54am

    Thanks Kevin for your excellent blog, and so pleased that you have joined the LibDems! Everyone, should you like to work with Kevin and the new HK sub-group of Chinese LibDems to reach out to your HK constituents, please contact us at [email protected]. Cllrs Marguerita Morton and Linda Chung have been working with HK emigres in their local areas of Tunbridge Wells and Camden for a while now, and we can replicate our experience and know-how in other areas as well.

  • David Langshaw 1st Mar '23 - 9:21am

    Hi, Kevin, can I refer you to the Welcome Courses which are run by volunteers all over the country for newcomers from Hong Kong? Here’s the link.. https://www.ukhk.org/welcome-course-for-people-from-hk

    It’s a course of seven evenings, with videos and other exercises (mainly quizzes) based on the “Life in the UK” test for citizenship. (Some of the content is a bit obscure, but I suppose there has to be a starting point somewhere.)

    We have just had our second evening at the course I am helping with, and I now share some of your concerns. My group were baffled by the housing situation here in Britain – they had the money to pay rent, but landlords will not rent to them if they don’t have jobs. They all want to increase their confidence in speaking English, but were mildly apprehensive about approaching people they didn’t know. Clearly, with social media, they have been able to establish very good support networks for each other, but they wanted to increase their exposure to and involvement with the wider community, but simply didn’t know how to go about it. Still, it’s early days, and maybe buy the time the course ends my perceptions will be different.

  • emma jiao-knuckey 1st Mar '23 - 1:23pm

    Excellent article!

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