The promulgation of new security law for Hong Kong by China has resulted in a sharp increase in inquiries for immigration from the former British colony especially the city's residents who emigrated en masse there when it returned to the Chinese control in 1997.
Immigration consultants have fielded hundreds of new calls since China's legislature - the National People's Congress (NPC) - unveiled the controversial plan on May 21, bypassing the local legislature, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Sunday.
The legislation was subsequently approved by the NPC, much on the expected lines with an overwhelming majority on May 28, prompting US President Donald Trump to order the removal of exemptions that gave Hong Kong special status.
Trump said on Saturday that Hong Kong has no longer sufficiently autonomous from China to enjoy the special privileges with the US, in place since it left the British control in 1997.
The new law under which China can establish the presence of its security forces in Hong Kong for the first-time evoked strong protests from thousands of local people. The protests were expected to be intensified in the coming weeks.
China says the new law is aimed at throttling secession, subversion, terrorism, foreign interference or activities that threaten national security.
With Hong Kong now becoming the centre of the emerging Cold War between the US and China, a number of local people especially the city's rich are looking to migrate to different countries.
Some are accelerating their decision to buy property overseas, while others are cutting their asking price for local properties, immigration consultancy firms in Hong Kong said.
"The day after that proposal, we received over a hundred calls," said Andrew Lo, chief executive at Anlex, a Hong Kong-based immigration consultancy firm. "People are restless. They ask if they can leave the next day," he told the Post.
Requests for emigration advice have jumped as a result, breaking a lull caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to Midland Immigration Consultancy.
While the latest number in applications for good citizenship is not yet available, analysts expect them to rise with political temperature, the report said.
"People who were just engaging us on basic information before are now firmly committing by putting down deposits," Gillott said, citing one customer who asked to move his "millions and millions of dollars" to Portugal. "Never seen that before."
The political factor has encouraged some high-net-worth individuals defined as those having more than HKD 10 million ($1.29 million) of wealth to diversify their assets into other cities like London, Singapore and Taiwan.
Taiwan, which is having a stormy relationship with China as Beijing claims the territory to be part of the Chinese mainland, is an attractive destination for many seeking to flee the turmoil in Hong Kong. The self-ruling island allows foreigners to gain citizenship with $199,680 in investments in a business that hires local staff.
Almost 2,400 Hongkongers filed residency applications for Taiwan from January to April this year, compared to 948 last year in the same period, said Midland's director of strategy Tina Cheng, citing government data.
In all, 5,585 people left Hong Kong for Taiwan in 2019, an increase of 41 per cent, the government said.
Despite the interest in Taiwan, the top destinations remain English-speaking countries such as Ireland, Canada, and Australia.
A common language, quality educational systems, and professional opportunities are some reasons those countries are attractive, said John Hu, who has been involved in the migration consultancy business for two decades.
"We're seeing a four to fivefold increase in cases," said Hu, founder and principal consultant of John Hu Migration Consulting. "Now they see the urgency. They ask the question, which type of visa has the shortest processing time?"
Some homeowners are selling their properties to fund their emigration plans. One flat measuring 785 square feet at The Waterside in Ma On Shan this week changed hands at HKD 9.99 million, about HKD 150,000 below bank valuation, as the owner was in a rush to cash in and emigrate, said Christy Chan, chief senior sales manager at Midland Realty.
Vancouver-based property agent Devons Owens has seen a big demand from Hong Kong buyers, some of whom are Canadian passport holders.
"There's definitely increasing demand," she said. "I would say it's jumped compared to before."
For those looking to the European Union, Golden Visa Portugal offers a pipeline for passports from property investments. Starting at 350,000 euros, investors can obtain residency and eventually Portuguese citizenship in five years.