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Hong Kong’s Italian community grows

Hong Kong’s Italian community grows

Originally published at the South China Morning Post on May 27, 2016.

A growing number of Italians are calling Hong Kong casa, or home.

Data from the Italian consulate in Hong Kong shows that the number of Italian passport holders who are registered as Hong Kong residents has increased in recent years. From 2011 to March of this year, the number of residents jumped by about 70 per cent, to 3,453.

The number of approved employment visas for Italian passport holders more than doubled from 246 in 2006 to 594 in 2015, according to the Immigration Department.

“The Italian community has been expanding a lot ... especially small to medium enterprises coming to Hong Kong,” said Anna Romagnoli, general manager of the Italian Chamber of Commerce. “We have experience with people saying ‘we want to stay here in Hong Kong and then we might see how China goes’. There are more and more people willing to stay.”

Many expats from Italy tend to be young professionals looking to gain overseas work experience, she said. Sectors they gravitate towards include fashion, food and beverage, automotive, logistics and design.

Romagnoli, 24, came to Hong Kong two years ago to work at the chamber after completing an internship. Like many, she came to the city because she wanted to travel abroad and there were fewer job opportunities back home.

“I was really trying to come to Asia,” Romagnoli said, who studied economics in university but took electives with a focus on Asia. “Things in Italy aren’t that easy now. Even if they were, I would be happy to study abroad a bit more.”

Hong Kong is an appealing city for Italian expats because it’s easy to get around using just English, and it is a good starting point for those who want to enter China or other Asian countries, she said.

Although Romagnoli is not planning to stay in the city permanently – she hopes to work here for a couple of years before moving onto explore another city.

“It’s true that (Hong Kong) is pretty expensive, but I don’t think that makes it less appealing,” Romagnoli said. “You just have to be a bit smart on your expenses. Young people like myself ... they are aware of how much they can spend here, and how to spend to live a great life in Hong Kong without missing out.”

Claudio de Bedin, a partner at de Bedin & Lee who has worked with many Italian expat clients throughout his decades-long career, said he has seen expats over the years become more open to integrating with the local community.

Yet despite the growing number of Italian expats, the process for obtaining visas has actually become a lot tougher and more bureaucratic in recent years, he said.

“It’s harder for people to come here,” de Bedin, who is half Italian and grew up in Hong Kong, said.

“In the past, people will come out and stay for far longer periods of time. It’s become more expensive.”

To celebrate this year’s Italian National Day on June 2, the chamber is holding an Italian Market on May 28 and 29 at Cyberport showcasing Italian food, products and artists.

Last year’s event attracted about 2,000 visitors, and the chamber expects about 3,000 to join in on the festivities this year. The market will feature 40 exhibitors, the majority of which are locally-based Italian companies.

Italian Market:

When: Saturday May 28, 12pm to 9pm and Sunday May 29, 12-8pm.

Where: The Arcade, Ocean View Court and Sea View Terrace, 100 Cyberport Road, Pok Fu Lam

Fee: Free for ICC Mmbers, 50HKD for Non-members. Register online here.

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