From 31 January this year up many millions of Hong Kong residents and their dependents will have the right to come and live in the UK for up to five years. The number of applications for the upgraded British National Overseas (BNO) passport, which confers this right and also allows for a faster route to UK citizenship, has soared since the UK government introduced it in July 2020. The move was prompted by the imposition of a new security law which the UK regards as an erosion of the rights and freedoms of its former colonial citizens. The British Home Office predicts that as many as 3 million Hong Kong residents may choose to come and settle to the UK in the next three years and that may be a conservative estimate.
As the date for visa applications approaches, UK property businesses are experiencing a rapid growth in enquiries from people planning the move from Hong Kong. It is estimated that three quarters of these are university educated with earnings well above the Hong Kong average. Many are entrepreneurs who will want to continue to run their businesses remotely once based in the UK. The majority will also be bringing children with them. These families will therefore be looking very carefully at where they wish to live and making decisions based not only on employment opportunities but also on educational provision and the overall quality of life on offer.
London is currently seeing the highest level of interest, followed by Manchester, Reading, Oxford, Cambridge and Liverpool. For those who are tempted by the economic and cultural appeal of the capital but are put off by the associated high cost of living, Reading looks good on paper and is also good in person.
All the attractions of London can be reached in a 23 minute rail journey but the cost of living, and in particular of housing, is significantly lower. Many new arrivals will be looking to rent a two, three or four bedroom town centre flat or suburban house and these are typically cheaper to rent in Reading compared with London. The local lettings market is therefore likely to experience a much-needed boost. In the longer term, many of these renters will choose to buy property and so will provide further investment in the local housing market.
In addition to good-value housing, our vibrant and multicultural town, Reading, has much to offer people who are looking for a new place to call home. In fact, Reading was placed at number two in a recent UK Good Growth for Cities Index, scoring highly for a number of key factors such as jobs, income, housing, the environment, and transport.
As already mentioned, one of Reading’s chief attractions is its location. Only 40 miles from London, the town has excellent connectivity across the South East and the rest of the UK. Heathrow is just 40 minutes away along the M4 and its position on this main transport artery means other major cities are easily accessible. 140 trains a day connect Reading to London and there are easy rail connections to the rest of the UK. The arrival of the new high-speed Crossrail line will give further enhanced access across the South East.
As might be expected from such a well-located town, Reading enjoys one of the highest employment rates in the UK and offers well-paid skilled jobs in a wide range of sectors. It is a major ICT hub with over 11,000 businesses, including big names such as Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard, Wipro, Microsoft and Oracle. Its reputation as a centre for digital business has attracted international telecoms firms such as Huawei, Verizon, Ericsson, Vodaphone, Telefonica and Cisco to base themselves in the town. Utility providers Scottish and Southern Electricity and Thames Water also have their HQs in the town centre. Many leading biopharmaceutical companies have a base in the Thames Valley and Reading has attracted companies such as PRA International, Quintiles and Symantec to locate in the town. Research carried out at the University of Reading into areas such as green energy and cybernetics means that a number of related knowledge-based industries are based in the town.
Of course, Reading offers more than great employment opportunities and transport links. Although close to London, it is a major retail and cultural centre in its own right. The town centre is home to the Oracle shopping and leisure mall with over 80 retailers, an 11-screen cinema, and a wide range of bars and restaurants. The Hexagon is the town’s main cultural venue, hosting a mixture of live entertainment such as theatre, music and dance. Sports and fitness enthusiasts are catered for by two large leisure centres, whilst football fans can visit Madejski Stadium to watch the town’s football club take on visiting top-flight teams from around the UK.
Education will, of course, be a major consideration for families considering a move to Reading and in this respect, the town doesn’t disappoint. There are over 50 state-funded primary schools (for 4 –11-year-olds) with six rated as outstanding in their recent Ofsted inspection. Three of the town’s ten state secondary schools and colleges (for 11 – 18-year-olds) also achieved this top rating including the selective Kendrick and Reading Schools and the non-selective University Technical College. Parents looking for independent education for their child can find a range of provision right through the age range from 3 – 18 years old. The Abbey School and Queen Anne’s School offer single-sex education for girls, whilst St. Joseph’s College is co-educational. All these schools are selective for pupils aged 11 and over with entry gained through a selection test. Proximity to good state or private schools means that the following areas – Caversham, Earley, Lower Earley, Woodley, Winnersh, and Shinfield will be popular choices for relocating families.
The University of Reading will sure to be of interest to families thinking ahead to higher education. Founded in 1926 as an extension to the University of Oxford, it today enjoys an excellent national and international reputation, ranking amongst the top 30 of UK universities. It has 19,000 students from over 150 countries and offers degree courses in science, languages, humanities, business and arts.
For all these reasons, Reading should score very highly with Hong Kong nationals who are relocating to the UK in the next few years. There’s no doubt that the arrival of this dynamic group of people will provide very real and lasting economic benefits both for our local area and the country as a whole.