The UK’s BNO visa scheme, which was created to help Hong Kong residents relocate, has been in operation for over two years. Recent research indicates that almost half of the Hongkongers who have utilized this scheme are encountering significant difficulties in securing employment in the UK. Additionally, many are earning salaries below the national median for hourly and annual wages in the UK. Experts attribute these challenges to language and cultural adaptation and stress the urgent need for attention in these areas.
Thus far, the UK government has not released comprehensive data regarding the settlement and employment status of Hong Kong immigrants. In order to address this gap, Assistant Professor Tse Fuk Ying from the University of Birmingham Business School partnered with the advocacy group West Midlands Hongkongers Support CIC to conduct a thorough study. The study, which took place online from May to July of this year, aimed to evaluate the employment landscape for Hong Kong residents who have relocated to the UK within the past three years.
Demographics and Initial Findings
The survey had a total of 449 participants, with an equal split between males and females. The majority (70 percent) fell between the ages of 35 and 54, and a significant 68 percent held a university degree or higher. Geographically, approximately 50 percent resided in the West Midlands, while roughly 20 percent lived in either Greater London or Greater Manchester. Participants in other UK regions made up the remaining portion, with Northern Ireland being the only exception. Notably, over half of the respondents had been living in the UK for at least a year. Before their move, the majority of respondents were employed in sectors such as education (12.03 percent), social services (10.91 percent), information technology (10.02 percent), and finance and insurance (9.35 percent). Over a third required professional qualifications for their roles in Hong Kong.
Employment Challenges: 37 Percent Unemployed, Career Switching Common
Among the survey participants, 62 percent are currently employed in the UK, but a concerning 37 percent remain unemployed. Additionally, a third of the unemployed respondents have not actively sought employment yet. A minority of those employed (8.7 percent) have experienced job loss due to reasons such as company downsizing, underperformance, and incomplete tasks. Those who have secured employment in the UK are mainly working in fields such as education and childcare (15.16 percent), clerical and administrative roles (9.03 percent), and healthcare sectors (8.39 percent), among others. Interestingly, almost half (47.74 percent) are in industries different from those they worked in Hong Kong, and about 17 percent (16.77 percent) are in similar roles but in a different sector.
Language Barriers and Job-Seeking Challenges
While nearly 40 percent of Hong Kong immigrants began their job search within three months of arriving in the UK, finding stable employment proves to be a complex endeavor. Although most survey respondents expressed moderate confidence in their English proficiency, many raised concerns about vocabulary, understanding societal norms in the UK, conversational skills, and spoken expression. Around one in five respondents indicated low confidence in their English abilities, particularly in speaking and listening skills. This language challenge seems to contribute to their employment struggles, with 45.9 percent identifying “insufficient language skills” as the most significant hurdle in their job search. Other challenges, such as transportation (32.1 percent) and lack of job-seeking experience (26.5 percent), further compound the difficulties. Surprisingly, despite these challenges, over 70 percent have not sought any form of online or in-person support for language or job-seeking skills.
Financial Realities: Earnings Skewed Toward Minimum Wage
The study reveals that earnings are heavily concentrated towards the lower end of the wage scale. The majority of employed respondents earn between £10.6 and £11.99 per hour (approximately HKD 101.2 to 114.5), aligning closely with the UK’s current minimum wage of £10.42 for those aged 23 and above. Another significant segment earns £15 or more per hour (approximately HKD 143.2). On an annual basis, about 26.7 percent have a salary of £22,000 (approximately HKD 210,000) or less. While nearly half of the respondents (45.8 percent) report stable monthly incomes, a notable 9.4 percent experience significant fluctuations in their earnings. This variability adds another layer of complexity to the already challenging landscape for Hongkongers navigating the UK job market. Although respondents generally find their current roles fulfilling and beneficial for developing “soft skills” such as language and communication abilities, their earnings often fall below the UK’s national median hourly and annual wage (£14.77 per hour and £33,000 per year as of April 2022). This wage disparity implies limited flexibility in terms of work location and hours, potentially affecting overall job satisfaction and career advancement opportunities.
Earnings and Career Progression
While relations with colleagues and supervisors are generally positive, issues arise when respondents feel they are not treated fairly or lack constructive feedback. Such experiences can negatively impact their views on promotion opportunities and performance evaluations. However, there is a silver lining: over 70 percent of respondents feel their work is meaningful and aligns with their company’s philosophy and values, although less than a quarter see clear paths for career advancement. Among those currently employed, 62.9 percent work full-time. The majority have direct employment contracts with their employers (87 percent), while a smaller percentage are contracted through employment agencies (7.6 percent). Two-thirds work between 31 to 40 hours per week, which aligns with what most consider ideal, considering factors such as income level, caregiving responsibilities, and commuting logistics. However, job satisfaction varies, with half being content with their working hours and around 10 percent expressing dissatisfaction.
Chao Teng Hei, Director of the British Hong Kong Association, and Lee Dai Sing, a representative from West Midlands Hongkonger Support CIC, both highlight the evolving challenges faced by Hong Kong immigrants. These challenges range from adapting to the UK’s interview and CV-writing norms to more advanced issues in career development. They advocate for targeted employment support and recommend collaborations between Hong Kong community groups, the UK government, and labor unions to effectively address these challenges.
Language Skills and Community Support
Many Hong Kong immigrants still encounter difficulties in navigating the UK job market despite their educational background and professional qualifications. These challenges often stem from a limited understanding of local employment norms, insufficient job-seeking experience, or the complexity involved in transferring qualifications to the UK context. Matt Pointon, Skills Partner at the Trades Union Congress, which represents 48 unions and over 6 million members in the UK, is actively exploring programs to enhance the English proficiency of Hong Kong immigrants. He emphasizes the importance of facilitating conversations with native English speakers to build language confidence and understanding of local contexts.
Interestingly, the study reveals that nearly 44 percent of respondents are unaware of whether their workplace has a labor union, and only 28 percent report the presence of employee representatives who engage with management. Pointon attributes this knowledge gap to possible industry-specific variations and suggests a need for increased awareness. Lo Wei Zheng, Community Outreach Director at the “Good Neighbours Church in the UK,” echoes the sentiment that improving language skills is crucial. He also emphasizes the need to raise awareness about job-seeking techniques and labor rights among Hong Kong immigrants. His organization advocates for more consultation services, promotes community interaction, and seeks to provide greater visibility into various career paths.
Future iterations of this study plan to incorporate interviews and focus groups to further explore challenges specific to different industries and professions.