Demand for UK property set to rise as Boris Johnson promises visa shake-up to benefit Hongkongers fleeing Beijing's security law

By Cheryl Arcibalcheryl.arcibal@scmp.com / https://www.scmp.com/business/article/3087329/demand-uk-property-set-rise-boris-johnson-promises-visa-shake-benefit?utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=contentexchange&utm_source=EdgeProp&utm_content=3087329 | June 9, 2020 10:49 AM SGT
Inquiries about UK property had already jumped after Beijing moved to push through a national security law widely seen as a threat to Hong Kong's autonomy, according to real estate agents in the city.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised Hongkongers "one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history" if Beijing pushes through the national security law, in an op-ed published in the South China Morning Post and The Times of London on Wednesday.
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Under the plan " which will be put in place when Beijing formally enacts the law " every one of the 3 million Hongkongers who qualify for a British National (Overseas) passport and their dependents could relocate to the United Kingdom to stay and work or study for extendable periods of 12 months, creating a path to citizenship.
As of December, 300,000 Hongkongers held a BN(O) passport, while 2.9 million were believed to be eligible for it.
The BN(O) passports were issued to Hongkongers who were born before the 1997 handover. Under current rules, they can visit the UK for up to six months, but are barred from working or applying for citizenship.
London's announcement came amid renewed tension in the city following Beijing's approval of a proposal that authorises the National People's Congress Standing Committee to craft a national security law and impose it on Hong Kong. Those who oppose the law believe it will further erode the freedoms guaranteed to the city by a Sino-British agreement prior to the handover.
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"With what's happening in Hong Kong at the moment, from an immigration angle, we are seeing a lot more inquiries in the UK in particular, maybe because of the BN(O) situation," said Mei Han Wong, executive director and head of international residential sales at Knight Frank Hong Kong.
She said the number of inquiries about homes in the UK from Hongkongers has returned to where it was between May 2019 and the end of January, a period during which the city was rocked by violent street protests over a now-abandoned extradition bill. The number of inquiries during those turbulent months was 10 per cent higher than before the extradition bill was introduced.
"[Some] people in Hong Kong and Asia have been expecting that Hong Kong will eventually be China," said Jojo Romarx Salas, global research director at Leading Real Estate Companies of the World. "Like any astute businessman, Hongkongers would take advantage of the BN(O) offering if it will ultimately benefit their business."
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Inquiries into purchasing UK property have more than doubled in the last two months compared to the first quarter of the year, said Keng Shing Koh, chief executive and founder of Hong Kong-based Landscope Christie's, an international property agent. The central areas of London are the most popular by far, followed by other cities such as Birmingham and Manchester, Koh added.
"There were a lot of people talking as the new laws were introduced. People are quite interested in exploring their options, whether they're new or existing clients," Koh said, referring to Beijing's proposed national security law.
Still, it may take time for Prime Minister Johnson's welcoming message to BN(O) passport holders to see any effect on interest in the UK property market, he warned.
"I think people are waiting for the details to be released. It all boils down to specific laws and regulations, just like the national security law," Koh said.
Knight Frank's Wong said that strictly from an investment perspective, Hongkongers could benefit from a favourable exchange rate with the pound sterling weakening from 12.06 in 2015 to about 9.38 against the Hong Kong dollar in recent days.
Properties worth £1 million (US$1.2 million) in London are typically favoured by Hongkongers, but some are also willing to look at homes in Birmingham, she said.
"There has always been strong demand in the UK property market from buyers in Hong Kong," said Andrew Hawkins, international sales and marketing director at Savills UK. "Hong Kong nationals are the most active in relation to UK property purchases and for these buyers it is not purely an investment destination, but also a lifestyle purchase to live either full or part-time.
"They are especially interested in the City of London, where there is already an established community from the territory, attracted to London's highly rated schools, universities, cultural offering and business opportunities."
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.