Applications for emigration to Canada and Taiwan, which had recorded the most interest following the introduction of the national security law, were the most affected by the UK’s announcement, said Raymond Chong, managing director at StarPro Immigration Consultancy. The company had received “several hundred enquiries per month” following the passage of the law by Beijing, but “some had withheld” their applications to other countries once the BN(O) option was revealed, Chong said.
“After the BN(O) [policy] was revealed, enquiries for properties outside the UK plummeted by more than half. Enquiries about BN(O) passports and the UK have skyrocketed, rising by four to five times,” he said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the plan on July 1, paving the way for three million Hong Kong residents who are eligible for BN(O) passports to live and eventually settle in the UK. The BN(O) path is a much cheaper and faster way to emigrate and involves fewer procedures than other immigration programmes, StarPro’s Chong added.
An increase in emigration from Hong Kong is also likely to drive up home prices in the UK, said Jan Hong, senior principal director at Centaline Immigration Consultants. He added that a recent stamp duty relaxation in the UK until the end of March 2021 would also boost the market.
The increase in transactions involving UK property would come at the expense of property deals elsewhere, where prices would see less upwards pressure, said StarPro’s Chong. “Hong Kong funds will shift to the UK,” he said. “But foreign property purchases [by Hongkongers] do not usually account for a large portion of housing transactions in these countries, so the impact will be limited.”
Portugal, a favourite destination among Hong Kong residents looking to invest in property abroad because of its golden visa scheme, has seen fewer enquiries of late. Overseas buyers are believed to have contributed to a surge in housing prices, which, however, fell by about 14 per cent in March because of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the country’s National Statistics Institute. Its property market has recovered gradually over the past three months, according to property data company Confidencial Imobiliario.
And a minority of Hong Kong residents – especially those without BN(O) passports – is still expected to choose Portugal, because they are not required to live there and can get passports through the country’s golden visa scheme. These passports will allow them to remain in Hong Kong, while their children can study in primary and secondary schools in the UK for free after getting Irish residency, thanks to a European Union and UK policy.
Elsewhere, interest in property in Cyprus and Greece has sustained despite the UK’s BN(O) policy. The absence of a requirement to live in Cyprus, another former British colony, and the promise of good weather add to its appeal, said Pantelis Leptos, director of The Leptos Group.
Investors qualify for Cypriot citizenship through the Cyprus Investment Programme, on purchase of property worth €2 million. They can sell the property after five years.
Another option is permanent residency, which is available to investors who purchase property worth €300,000 in Cyprus, and €250,000 in Greece. But owners need to keep the property as long as they want to keep their residency.
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