Covid-19 hastened Singapore couple's decision to move back home after over a decade in Hong Kong

Ms Sharon Liu, her husband, Mr Lim Eng Seng, and their children, Anya and Andre, moved back to Singapore from Hong Kong just before the circuit breaker period. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SHARON LIU

SINGAPORE - When Hong Kong-based Singaporean Sharon Liu, 39, and her husband, Mr Lim Eng Seng, 41, returned to Singapore in January, they had planned to stay only a short while over the Chinese New Year.

However, the growing severity of the Covid-19 outbreak soon changed their minds.

With schools in Hong Kong shutting in early February, the couple decided to stay put in Singapore with their two young children.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Ms Liu said: "Just before the circuit breaker started in April, my husband and I flew to Hong Kong to pack up our things and come back."

The owner of an events marketing company that operates in Singapore and Hong Kong said her family was already thinking of moving back home by the end of the year, due to a combination of factors.

The pandemic simply accelerated their plans and they decided to come home after living in Hong Kong for more than 10 years.

One reason was that both their parents are getting old and want their grandchildren to spend more time with family in Singapore, said Ms Liu. She has a two-year-old son, Andre, and a three-year-old daughter, Anya.

The political turmoil in Hong Kong, marked by more than a year of ongoing protests, also contributed to their decision to move back to Singapore, she added.

The move back home was relatively smooth. Ms Liu's firm, Clearwater Communications, has been operating in both cities since 2018, so moving into the Singapore office was an easy transition to make.

Mr Lim, an investment broker, can work anywhere in the world, Ms Liu said.

She added: "He had built up his contacts in Hong Kong, so the main challenge in coming back is that he needs to build up a network in Singapore and this part of the region."

The family had planned on moving back to Singapore at the end of the year, but the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated their plans. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SHARON LIU

Ms Liu and her family are among the many overseas Singaporeans who returned amid the pandemic. According to the Government's annual Population in Brief report released on Thursday (Sept 24), the total number of overseas Singaporeans fell from 217,200 in 2019 to 203,500 in 2020.

The number of overseas Singaporeans per 100 Singapore citizens had increased gradually from 5.7 in 2010 to 6.2 in 2019 before falling to 5.8 in 2020.

Overall, the growth in the number of overseas Singaporeans was slower over the past five years compared with the period from 2010 to 2015.

Singapore Management University sociologist Paulin Straughan said Singaporeans will likely resume heading overseas once travel restrictions are lifted.

She said: "A large group of these are younger Singaporeans who venture overseas for education and employment. So, as long as there are opportunities available, younger Singaporeans in particular will take up the challenge of establishing themselves elsewhere.

"However, I think while those heading for education opportunities are likely to resume travel, those seeking employment overseas might have to wait a little longer. Covid-19 has caused the global economy to slow down."

Professor Straughan added that most major economies are recording a slowdown in growth and employment opportunities. Where there are limited positions available, it will be harder for Singaporeans to find employment overseas, just as it is now harder for foreigners to find employment in Singapore, she said.

She added: "I expect that every country will have to prioritise hiring locals over foreigners when both are equally qualified, so it is important for those seeking opportunities overseas to look at demands from the future of work, and take advantage of this period to leverage retraining and upskilling opportunities in Singapore.

"With the right skill sets, it will be easier to venture overseas when the economy picks up in the near future."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.