How Many of Hong Kong’s BNO Residents Will Come to The UK: An Insight into Forecasting | Ewell Gregoor

The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill, pursuant to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, was proposed to the Council of Hong Kong by the Chinese Government in March 2019, to widespread domestic and international criticism. The bill, in effect, erodes the power of the Hong Kong Legal System and would allow China to arrest voices of political dissent in Hong Kong. The move breaks the Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, declaring basic policies in accordance with the ‘One Country, Two Systems’, principle agreed between the UK, Hong Kong and China. With particular reference to ensuring Hong Kong’s existing way of life (capitalist, social freedoms), that should be unchanged until the bill expires in 2047.

It is this reason why Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, announced an immigration policy that would give Hong Kong’s British National Overseas (BNO) population a route to citizenship in the UK. It is estimated that 2.9 million of Hong Kong’s near 8 million population would be eligible for consideration under the new proposals. The proposal was announced to mixed reception. A poll following Mr Raab’s announcement in May found an overwhelming majority of British people support the proposals, however, some with a tougher immigration stance have voiced their concerns. After all, Mr Raab this week unambiguously stated that there would be no quotas on BNO intakes from Hong Kong. Those with concerns over a rising population and previous failures from Government to meet net migration targets may have justification for anger should nearly 3 million Hong Kong migrants come to the UK on a path to citizenship. However, this is unrealistic, not all 3 million with BNO passports will come to the UK. So how many can we expect?

You may be aware of the Good Judgement Project, and the Super Forecasting book by Phillip Tetlock, which shot to notoriety last year when government adviser Dominic Cummings hired Andrew Sabisky to his new team of ‘misfits and weirdos’, only for the latter to be sacked days later for previous comments about interracial intelligence. Dominic Cummings cited both the book and the Good Judgement Project in his rationale for employing Sabisky, who is a certified super forecaster. I too, like Sabisky, contribute to the Good Judgement Project and have a brier score (accuracy) of 0.21 ((0-2) scale with 0 being 100% accurate and 2 being 100% wrong), for the 82 geopolitical questions I have attempted to answer. Which is a fairly good score. I recently took part in the COVID 19 forecasting study for the Good Judgment Project and Penn University in an attempt to give insight into the scale and impact of the current global pandemic.

I will now attempt to answer the question above and estimate how many Hong Kong BNO migrants we can expect to take advantage of new policy rules outlined by the British Government, and see if there is any cause for concern in regards to perspective migration numbers.

Outside View
The forecasting book by Dr Tetlock explains the best method for forecasting starts with working out the outside perspective. This is something I have found helpful when working on my own models. An outside view is to tackle a question without considering contemporary issues, news and the political landscape. So in the case of the question, how many Hong Kong Migrants will come to the UK in the coming year, the first thing to ask is: without the recent change in the Hong Kong political landscape how many could we expect to come?

The population of Hong Kong nationals living in Britain in the UK, stated in the 2001 census, was 96 thousand. This increased to 98 thousand by the time of the 2011 census ten years later. Indicating an increase of two thousand over a ten year period. Working out at two hundred migrants from Hong Kong coming to the UK each year. Now of course, this doesn’t legislate for population growth through procreation, and the data is ten year old, so let’s test that hypothesis. Data on Hong Kong migrants per year is hard to find, as it is often included within Chinese migration data. Therefore, if we take China migration numbers, which peaked at 40,000 in 2014. Then taking China’s population (1.4 billion), and working out Hong Kong’s percentage of the population (7.8 million), we get roughly 0.5%. Extrapolating Hong Kong’s percentage of China population, and taking that from the Chinese migration data (0.5% of 40,000), we again get 200. Meaning we can accept the hypothesis that typically we would expect around 200 migrants from Hong Kong to migrate to the UK each year.

Inside Perspective
After gaining the outside perspective it is important to factor that against the current political issues that impact the outcome, these being: The change in civil liberty, the prospects of civil war, and the changes to the British immigration system. Let us first look at the former as it is the most complicated. As Hong Kong has never before experienced a situation like this we would have to look at other countries with similar circumstances to predict migration numbers. If we first look at Syria, who according to the UN Refugee Agency, total refugees lost as a result of the wars that have ravaged Syria is around 6.8 million, meaning Syria has lost 37% of its population.

The same report stated that South Sudan has lost around 20% of its population, Afghanistan has lost 10% of its population, and Somalia around 6%. The countries stated are the highest for displaced people as a result of war (refugees), however, these countries have been at war for quite some time, and the net displacement figures are a total over time, not year on year. The best contemporary example to compare would be the displacement figures from Venezuela, which has seen some three million (out of thirty million people, equating to 10% of the population) migrants leave and cross the border into neighbouring Brazil and Peru. The situation in Venezuela has happened over a shorter period of time than the other countries identified, however it has still occurred over a number of years, and Brazil and Peru are a lot closer to Venezuela than Hong Kong is to Britain. Therefore you would have to conclude that, in the short term, there is little risk of more than 10% of the Hong Kong BNO population coming to the UK, equating to around two hundred and ninety thousand people.

Now it is worth caveating that just because there is a possibility of up to 290 thousand people who may leave Hong Kong, not all will end up in the UK. The UK is joint third in the list of countries with the highest amount of Hong Kong residents, behind the US (240 thousand) and Canada (240 thousand). Britain has roughly the same Hong Kong residents as Australia (100 thousand), Singapore is slightly behind (60 thousand), with other smaller international settlements bringing the total to around 600,000 worldwide. On those calculations Britain is home to around 16% of Hong Kong migrants worldwide, so we can only expect around the same number to come to the UK should a mass exodus occur in Hong Kong, meaning the perspective two hundred and ninety thousand has become forty-six thousand.

The last factor to consider are the recent changes in the rules for Hong Kong BNO immigrants. It is worth remembering that the previous rule stated that BNO passport holders would be able to come to the UK Visa free for six months. The new system extends that period to 12 months, with the same work and study requirements. The new policy does not guarantee citizenship, but puts you on the path to citizenship. Something I would argue the original policy did. The tangible impact of the new rules are actually quite minimal, and are nothing more than an ostentatious display to confront China and let her know in no uncertain terms Britain opposes the current expansion into Hong Kong. Whilst making it crystal clear that despite Brexit, Britain is still an outward looking, welcoming country. I therefore see no reason to change my prediction based on the last factor. I would give a 90% chance that the number of Hong Kong migrants who will come to Britain within the next year will be in the range of two hundred to forty-six thousand, with the more likely range being five to twenty-five thousand.

Overall, I think that there is little chance of an influx of people akin to the Eastern European intake from the Tony Blair premiership. As a Brexiteer who was happy to see free movement end this week, and as someone who has voiced concerns over the ability of public services to cope with the challenges of immigration, I understand those who are sceptical when they hear the government announce such plans. And are by no means racist for their scepticism.

The relatively few Hong Kong Nationals who will end up in Britain over the next year will no doubt make a fantastic contribution to this great country, and are, from me at least, most welcome. In a historic week, where Britain first left the EU (passing the deadline to extend the transition period), and put an end to free movement, we must not lose sight on what migrants have done for this great country. Be it the Gurkha community who have been our valiant protectors in the wars of the past, or the Windrush generation who’s descendants now work in our much loved NHS and care sector. So I say to our perspective new neighbours from Hong Kong, welcome to old Blighty, sorry about the weather!

Photo by Ewell Gregoor.

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