As we’re overwhelmed by the omnipresence of French people in the city, Yann Pouezat, Chief of the economic department at the consulate gives an overview about the growth of French community in Hong Kong.
“The hottest spot for French expats these days is Hong Kong.” These words are the title of an article published by the Wall Street Journal last August and indeed, there is no better way to describe the current fascination French people have for Hong Kong. Even though French presence in the city is nothing new and can be traced back to the early 19th century, it has shown a remarkable dynamism over the last few years, with Hong Kong recently becoming the largest French community in Asia before Shanghai.
While Americans and Canadians, two of Hong Kong’s largest expatriate populations, have seen their numbers drop by 10% over the last four years, data from the Hong Kong Department of Immigration shows that the French community posted an annual growth rate over the same period of about 5%. According to the Hong Kong Government, this is the strongest growth rate among any expatriate population in the city. The number of French citizens registered at the French Consulate has doubled since 2007, recently reaching about 12,600. Since not all passport holders register this way, a better estimate is that the French community amounts to at least 25,000 people. In comparison, the German and Italian communities are believed to be around 4,000 and 2,000 people respectively.
Going into more detail based on official figures, which we believe are a representative sample, there are slightly more French men than women (57% vs. 43%) and French expatriates are mainly young professionals. People between 18 and 45 years old account for almost half of the French community in Hong Kong. As the number of young French professionals rises, so too does the number of even younger French people - minors currently representing about one third of the French population. Enrolment in the French section at the French International School of Hong Kong increased to 2,000 students this past school year, from 1,500 students in 2010. Compared to the past decade, a growing number of families are settling down in Hong Kong and tend to stay after their first contract. Almost half of the French expatriates have lived in Hong Kong for more than five years, while about 15% have been here for less than a year.
In terms of geographical location, most French expatriates live on the north side of Hong Kong Island (46%). In districts such as Soho, Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun (sometimes nicknamed “little Paris”), the French scene has flourished. Dozens of Western restaurants and bars have opened in the past few years, many catering the city’s French population. Hong Kong restaurants and shops have a rapid turnover and French ones are no exception. Another popular area for French families is the southern side of Hong Kong Island and Lamma Island (22%), followed by the New Territories (13%), Kowloon (11%), and Lantau (8%).
This influx of French people to Hong Kong has a lot to do with the growth and dynamism of the Hong Kong economy, attracting more and more French firms which send French people to Hong Kong. Many of them looking for growth outside of Europe have taken advantage of Asia’s more favourable economic picture and set up shop in the city, providing a multitude of employment opportunities for French job seekers. Many French expatriates set foot in the city through an internship program or thanks to the “working holiday visa” scheme and then find their place in the Hong Kong labour market.
About 800 French companies currently operating in Hong Kong are either partially-owned or led by French people, among them 315 subsidiaries of French companies, employing around 33,000 workers and generating around €14 bn (HK$120 bn) in revenues annually. Most of the major French firms are present in Hong Kong and more and more French SMEs are settling in the city as well, attracted by Hong Kong’s business environment and proximity to China. Retail or retail-related activities are French firms’ number one sector (wholesale, retail, import/ export, logistics) accounting for 60% of French firm’s turnover in Hong Kong. Finance and insurance comes next with 25%, followed by construction (5%). French firms are also very dynamic in the utilities and urban services sectors, as well as new technologies and we can expect to see more French people coming to Hong Kong to work in these fields in the coming years. France is already an important player in the Hong Kong tech community. For instance, French entrepreneurs in Cyberport represent the second-largest group of foreign entrepreneurs. And we hope the recently established group, French Tech Hong Kong, will bring this entrepreneurial community together and help it grow even more.
The French community in Hong Kong is buoyant - it is getting younger, more diversified, and it is successfully blending in with Hong Kong’s cultural and social environment. Let’s hope this trend will continue for the benefit of both France and Hong Kong.
Find out more interesting content on http://fccihk.com/publications/hongkongecho-magazine-vol-80 or pick up a copy at the French Chamber and selected institutions.