How COVID-19 impacted the migration decisions of Hong Kong people

How COVID-19 impacted the migration decisions of Hong Kong people

People look at a flight departure board in Hong Kong International Airport

Hong Kong International Airport


New research published in the Journal of Asian Population Studies has examined the impact COVID-19 had on the migration decisions of people living in Hong Kong.

The paper, by the Department’s Professor Man-Yee Kan, current DPhil student See Pok Loa, and former students Muzhi Zhou and Wei Wang, shows that a pandemic can be a push factor or a pull factor for migration: people tend to move away from a region where the infection is spreading fast.

And overall, younger and more educated people show a stronger intention to migrate because of a pandemic. 

Following mass social protests in 2019 and the enactment of a national security law in 2020, a significant proportion of Hong Kong’s inhabitants considered migrating to another country. However, the spread of COVID-19 during this time had a substantial impact on their migration plans.

Using survey data from 2021-22, this paper reveals that migration decisions were affected by the pandemic and by people’s fear of being infected, with migration seen as a way to lower this risk.

However people did not experience the impact of COVID-19 in the same ways.

The association between the rise in COVID-19 cases and people’s migration intention was much stronger for people with university education attainment. This suggests that people with higher education were more capable of moving to high-income countries to lower the risks of being negatively affected by COVID-19 in Hong Kong.

On the other hand, the migration intention of older people was less affected by the growth of the local pandemic situation. While older people are more at risk of being negatively affected by COVID-19, they are, compared to younger people, often less able or willing to start a new life in another country.

The pandemic also caused people to be more uncertain about the timing of their migration. The growth of local COVID-19 cases increased uncertainty about when to migrate, potentially delaying migration. This growth in uncertainty was more substantial for older people and those less educated.

These findings underscore that even among those who are determined to migrate, people with lesser capabilities of overcoming travelling difficulties, such as those older and less educated individuals, will be more negatively affected.

The paper concludes:

We call for more research to look into how global migration trends will be influenced by growing uncertainties brought about by pandemics and political upheavals.


Original Publication

Zhou, M., Wang, W., Loa, S.P. & Kan, M-Y. (2023) Moving in the time of COVID-19: how did the pandemic situations affect the migration decisions of Hong Kong people? Asian Population Studies.