China's zero-Covid policy pushing people to emigrate abroad

In the Chinese capital Beijing, a tough new clampdown has just begun - to combat a drastic rise in cases. ITV News' Debi Edward reports

All of China’s major cities are in some form of lockdown, subject to mass testing, school closures and work from home orders.

The country is facing what could turn out to be its most severe wave of Covid cases since the start of the pandemic.

This morning in Zhengzhou, workers from the iPhone product line at Foxconn showed the anger that is being shared across much of the country right now.

They smashed up the Covid test booths which have been set up in the factory premises, and confronted those who’ve been enforcing the isolation they’ve been forced to live and work in as they keep production going.

For working in such conditions, they were promised more money, but that hasn’t materialised.

And the hundreds of workers recruited to fill in for those who’ve already quit, have faced strict quarantine conditions.

Such protests, large and small, have grown in recent weeks as Covid cases have soared and lockdowns have intensified.

It is little wonder that emigration has become one of the most searched topics online from young people who see no hope for their future, and the rich who fear their wealth is under threat from the Communist Party.

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We spoke to a university graduate who asked us to call him David. He wants to leave, but when he went to ask for a passport he was told, new and renewed passports are only being given to those who have fixed work or study placements abroad.

He doesn’t have anything set up, he just wants out. But for now, he is trapped.

There are millions of others in a similar situation, who have been refused the right to a passport, or renewal of their current one.

David told us about his friends’ mother who committed suicide last year because of the lockdowns and Covid restrictions.

He told us he feels pathetic, he has no hope for his future. Youth unemployment hit a record 20% this summer, adding to the sense of hopelessness he feels about his prospects.

He asked us to disguise his identity because expressing any form of discontent can get you, and your family into trouble. Another reason he wants to leave.

David told ITV News he wants to leave China but is unable to get a new passport. Credit: ITV News

By using a VPN network he’s been able to access internet content which is censored in China, and he can see what is happening in the rest of the world - even looking at people watching the World Cup makes him yearn for freedoms he doesn’t have.

We’ve spoken to eight different relocation companies, and they all report an increase in inquiries from people wanting to emigrate.

They told us there was a marked spike after the Congress last month, at which Xi Jinping was confirmed as Communist Party leader for an unprecedented third term.

During that historic gathering he made it clear that under his continued rule the country will seek a strict socialist agenda.

That has made many Chinese millionaires and billionaires uneasy.

Phillipe May, from EC Holdings in Singapore, told ITV News it has replaced Hong Kong as a safe haven for their money.

Phillipe May told ITV News that his company has transferred money, held by its clients, to Singapore as it is a 'safe place' where it 'cannot be easily confiscated'

His firm is one of those that is fielding calls from more people asking to get themselves and their money out of China.

He says they are looking not only for increased personal freedom but also peace of mind for their hard-earned assets.

They tell him they want their money in a safe place where it can’t be easily confiscated on frivolous or trumped-up charges.

Elsewhere, Eric Major works for Latitude, a company which also helps citizens set up a second residence.

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He quipped instead of a Rolex or Tesla car, it’s now a second residency card or citizenship that wealthy Chinese families are seeking.

And Ireland is emerging as one of the most popular destinations. After Brexit it’s become somewhere migrants can gain access to the European and UK markets.

With the country locked into its zero-Covid policy and the restrictions that come with it, these firms will likely continue to get more business.

With wealth you have more options but for people like David, who can’t even get a passport, there is currently no route out.