As early as August 2019, a number of articles began showing up concerning an uptick in HongKongers considering the Portuguese Golden Visa. Subsequently, a number of agents, lawyers and visa consultancy firms hopped at the chance to capitalise upon that opportunity. However, the recent surge of novel coronavirus cases throughout Europe has likely slowed interest. In fact, since the start of the pandemic, any news of Portuguese Golden Visa seekers from Hong Kong has fallen completely off the radar.
I’ll make a statement: I do not believe that the underlying political problems that caused HongKongers to consider investment in Portugal will go away. I believe it is only paused for a while, and the likelihood of policies benefiting Mainland China’s pursued policies will return once the panic has subsided. For now, the current path of global infection, death rates and the potential of timely vaccination is completely unknown. However, one thing is certain. Since the start of 2020, the number of HongKongers working from home has increased, and the possibility that HK companies may retain the practice following a ‘return to normal’ has increased.
If COVID-19 does indeed create a trend of working from home worldwide, I can think of no better people to benefit from it than HongKongers. Industrious by nature, career focused and incredibly willing to direct extra effort to a ‘side gig’, too many HK workers have remained tied to an antiquated system keeping them chained to the office. In reality, transport times, unnecessary meetings and ‘team building’ do indeed affect productivity. The benefit of working from home has been known for several years, specifically confirmed by Stanford Professor Nicholas Bloom’s CTrip study (link below).
We are obviously in a time of transition. This was occurring even before the outbreak of COVID-19. As previously discussed in our February 21, 2020 post, Portugal has recognised that increased training, improved education and the proper engagement of older generations is necessary for a shift to the digital economy. HongKongers are already living in the digital economy, and their experiences and expertise could certainly serve as an inspiration (and model of best practices) for Portuguese beginning to move in that direction. The greatest challenge that HongKongers would face in participating in this transition would be the necessity of remaining patient with the cultural components of how the Portuguese have traditionally approached ‘work’.
The truth is, things can get done, and they can get done properly, with time. The overall vibe in Portugal allows for a more relaxed balance between productivity and leisure. This change is reflected in the recent results of the 2019 edition of InterNations’ annual survey, Expat Insider. In it, Portugal increased its standing as a new hub for expats, listed as #3 in the Best Place for Expats category, the third year in a row that Portugal has been in the Top 10. Portugal also topped the chart for Quality of Life, placed second in both Personal Happiness and Leisure Options, and ranked 4th in Ease of Settling In, 7th in Health/Well-being and 8th in Safety & Security.
It is worth noting that Portugal ranked abysmally in the Working Abroad Index (35th), which indicates that the country still requires revision of its bureaucratic decision-making process to help increase job security and shift growth industries away from tourism and rental properties, neither of which are necessarily sustainable in the post-coronavirus economy. Portugal’s standing in the Working Abroad Index has nowhere to go but up. The government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has in no way limited interest in innovation. When the smoke clears, enterprising HongKongers with an aptitude for adaptation may find a society willing to take risks in order to make the transition to the digital economy. Stranger things have happened.
Finally, there are opportunities for company creation here in Portugal for Hong Kong expats. While I cannot 100% recommend the exact direction HongKongers might take, I will note that items or activities that typically appeal to Asian tastes are distinctly missing, are substandard or overpriced in general. By bringing the quality of ‘Asian flavour’ to younger Portuguese and the middle classes, they will find that the interest is there. The Portuguese also have a penchant for creative pastimes, so anything that embraces artistic endeavour is likely to attract talented Portuguese.
As we continue to remain on an uncertain trajectory, the industriousness of HongKongers would certainly be a welcome addition to Portugal. As the more intrepid among them make the shift, both Portugal and HongKongers alike are sure to benefit from taking the risk to embrace new ways of existing. 去吧！香港人！