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A night view of Hong Kong's legendary skyline.The Associated Press

Chinese-Canadian young adults working in Hong Kong left Canada for better economic opportunities, but consider themselves Canadian first and plan on returning, according to a new sociological survey.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia and the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that Chinese-Canadians aged 23 to 32, many of whom were born in Canada or arrived with Hong Kong-born parents when they were children, decided to leave Canada after attending university because they felt there were no jobs here that suited their ambitions. The sociologists conducted formal interviews and focus-group interviews with 18 young Chinese-Canadians, 12 Canada-based parents with children working in Hong Kong, and varied groups of Chinese community leaders from Toronto and Vancouver. The young adults make up part of the 300,000-strong contingent of Canadians living in the Asian metropolis, 83 per cent of whom hold dual citizenship.

Many of them said they felt their ethnic Chinese background held them back from promotions at companies in Canada, while being Chinese-Canadian actually made them more attractive recruits in Hong Kong – where respondents said their Canadian-earned degrees and fluency in English made them more ideal candidates than local Hong Kong-born Chinese.

"People move to Hong Kong, but it doesn't mean they feel they're Chinese – they feel Canadian," says Professor Miu Chung Yan of UBC. "Most of the young people we interviewed had ambitions in their career, and didn't see opportunities in Canada."

Many of those interviewed did not see suitable job opportunities in Vancouver or Toronto, but easily found good jobs in Hong Kong within the first few months.

"In Hong Kong, I think there may be more prospects or opportunities here for people like Chinese-Canadians to move up, as opposed to in Canada," one female respondent said.

But none of this meant the respondents, some of whom worked in Hong Kong's hyper-competitive high finance sector, didn't feel Canadian. Many of them felt a sense of culture shock when they arrived in Hong Kong, even if they had extended family in Hong Kong, and tended to hang out with expatriate Chinese-Canadians or other non-Chinese expatriates. They drink coffee and watch Vancouver Canucks hockey games on their mobile phones during breaks at work. Many saw Hong Kong as a much more exciting place to work, and although none of those interviewed planned to return to Canada in the near future, most thought of Canada as home. They considered Hong Kong a temporary place that they would leave eventually to settle down or retire in Canada.

"I feel nothing in Hong Kong is home," one woman told researchers. "Like, home for me is Toronto."

Prof. Yan, who wrote the article in the Journal of International Migration and Integration with co-authors Ching Man Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and UBC's Sean Lauer, said few of the respondents had any formal contact with the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong, something he found troubling. With more Canadians coming from economically dynamic countries such as India and mainland China, Prof. Yan said the country may soon be dealing with a situation where Canadian-trained immigrants see more opportunity in their parents' native countries, either because they feel discriminated against in Canada, or because the allure of success abroad is too great.

Prof. Yan noted that almost all the participants had multicultural groups of friends growing up, but began to hang out more with other Chinese-Canadians in high school, and continued to do so throughout university.

"They are assets," he said. "They can bring business to Canada. But they are invisible. They are invisible [to Canada] in Hong Kong."

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