Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: iStock

HONG KONG – Many medical, education and social welfare workers plan to resign, retire early or leave Hong Kong since the National Security Law was implemented in June 2020, according to the findings of recent surveys.

Two in five teachers said they were contemplating leaving the education sector, with many citing increasing political pressure as a major reason, according to a survey conducted by the pro-democracy Professional Teachers’ Union, which polled 1,178 secondary, primary and kindergarten teachers between April 29 and May 5.

About 19% of the respondents said they were making plans to resign or retire early, while 21% said they intended to quit but had yet to make any concrete plan. Of these teachers, 71% cited increasing political pressure as a major reason for their plan to resign.

About 55% said they were also dissatisfied with the city’s social environment while 38% said they were unhappy with education policies.

“After the National Security Law was implemented last year, more teachers think that the political situation is going worse. And also the political pressure from the Education Bureau is increasing,” union chairman Fung Wai-wah said.

Fung said the government should refrain from exerting pressure on frontline teachers through means such as de-registering them – effectively barring them from the profession – or accepting anonymous complaints.

On April 30, the Education Bureau said in documents submitted to the Legislative Council that two teachers had recently been disqualified over complaints.

It said a liberal studies teacher at Lung Cheung Government Secondary School in Wong Tai Sin was accused of “defaming the country, arousing students’ hostility towards the country and the Chinese people, and undermining their sense of national identity.” The Bureau said the teacher had been de-registered for committing professional misconduct.

Students at the Heung To Middle School in Hong Kong. Image: Youtube

Separately, a teacher was de-registered last month due to a court conviction for engaging in unlawful activities related to the protests.

Last year, two primary school teachers had their registration cancelled, one for allegedly “seriously teaching his history lessons wrong” and the other for allegedly “promoting Hong Kong independence.”

A secondary school teacher surnamed Wong, who failed to renew his contract last year as he posted sarcastic comics on his Facebook page “vawongsir,” said he could be the next one to be de-registered as he was informed by the Education Bureau that he had committed professional misconduct.

Tang Fei, a pro-Beijing educator and the vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, said Wong should be de-registered as he brainwashed students with his comics and spread hate speech and misinformation during the social unrest in 2019.

Some pro-establishment lawmakers have suggested setting up cameras in all classrooms to monitor teachers’ performance. However, Christine Choi, the Undersecretary for Education, said in March that the government would not consider this idea, which could affect students’ learning.

Since the Civil Servant Bureau in January asked all 178,000 civil servants to take an oath or make a declaration to swear allegiance to the system of the country and uphold laws of the state, the government has been targeting the employees of the publicly funded organizations and checking whether any have made inappropriate speeches in public or on social media. Teachers, social workers, nurses and doctors are now all on the bureau’s radar.

Textbooks for Hong Kong children have been ‘adjusted’ by authorities. Photo: AFP/Peter Parks

Chung Kim-wah, deputy chief executive of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, said primary and secondary school teachers and university instructors were not daring to say what they want to say in classes or in the media due to the worsening political environment.

Chung said many teachers, media workers and civil servants were planning to emigrate in response to the clampdown on academic freedoms and free speech.

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a senior lecturer and prominent scholar at the Chinese University Hong Kong, said three main groups of people would seek to move out of Hong Kong. Choy said young people could study abroad while professionals such as medical staff could easily find jobs in foreign countries. He said people would also prefer to leave Hong Kong if they had enough money to retire.

In January, the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff released a survey that showed about 53.8% of its members were considering leaving the city. It said 80% of those who planned to leave would take action within the next two years.

A research team at the Department of Sociology of the University of Hong Kong said in a report last week that about 16% of those who had overseas passports would move out of Hong Kong within two years.

Hongkongers holding a HKSAR passport are eligible for the British National (Overseas) passport (right). Photo: Asia Times

It said 21% of professionals with overseas passports would emigrate within a year while less than 10% of service and sales workers would do so. It said 19.3% of those aged between 31 and 50 planned to emigrate, compared with 7.6% of those aged between 18 and 30.

Previous research showed a similar pattern as those in the 31-50 age bracket have a higher tendency than others to leave Hong Kong because they want a better education for their children. Young workers may not have enough money to move while those aged 51-60 tend to wait for their pensions.

On January 31, the British government started a visa scheme for British National (Overseas) (BNO) status holders to gain citizenship in the United Kingdom. In the first 10 weeks, more than 35,000 people have applied for the visa, according to the British media. Canada, Australia and Taiwan are also among top destinations for Hong Kong emigrants. 

Read: China set to squeeze UK’s visa offer for HK