Migrants find little to attract them to Britain

Stephen Vines Hong Kong
Sunday 24 September 1995 23:02 BST

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In advocating the right of entry to Britain of 3.5 million of Hong Kong's population, the governor, Chris Patten, said "nobody seriously supposes" that they would actually want to come.

The latest estimates of migrant destinations from Hong Kong tend to suggest that Mr Patten has a point. In the years 1990-4, 144,026 people emigrated to Canada; 69,645 to the United States; 56,006 to Australia; 17,715 to New Zealand and just 5,514 to Britain.

In part, this is because Britain has more restrictive immigration laws than any of the other four countries but, more importantly, Britain has rarely been attractive to Hong Kong's emigrants.

The United Kingdom is not viewed as a land of economic opportunity, nor is it seen as welcoming to immigrants. Moreover, there is a lingering image of Britain as a destination for poorer, rural people.

This derives from the small wave of emigration to Britain in the 1960s, which was dominated by rural, poorly-educated people who work mainly in the restaurant business. Today's potential migrants are more likely to be well-educated, skilled and economically prosperous.

Even those who have been given full British passports under the special British nationality scheme for Hong Kong have shown little inclination to take up the offer. Last May, it was disclosed that only just over half of the successful applicants for the scheme had decided to obtain passports.

The nationality scheme gives full citizenship to 50,000 key job holders and their families.

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