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Hong Kong’s population shrank substantially over the past year as people left the city after Beijing implemented the National Security Law, which curtailed protest and dissent.

The city saw an outflow of 89,200 residents in the year through the end of June 2021, contributing to a 1.2% drop in the total population to about 7.39 million people, according to government data released Thursday. That population figure also includes the inflow of 13,900 people holding one-way permits, and a net natural decrease of 11,800 people due to births and deaths.

Hong Kong’s population declined in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, following at least a decade of consistent growth from mid-2010, the data shows. The city faced a historic 18-month recession from mid-2019, spurred by political protests and the pandemic.

The National Security Law, implemented in June 2020, also damaged personal freedoms and raised concerns about the city’s future as a financial center.

In response, the U.K. announced a new visa for Hong Kong holders of the British National (Overseas) passports and their dependents and began accepting applications for the visa, which offers a path to U.K. citizenship, on Jan. 31. In the first quarter of this year there were more than 34,000 applications, with 7,200 being granted, according to data from the U.K. Home Office.

When asked for a comment, a representative for the Hong Kong government referred to the report released Thursday, which described the decline in city residents as “net movement, which includes the movement of Hong Kong residents into and out of Hong Kong for various purposes including work and study” and stated that this was “conceptually different from immigration and emigration.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in late July that people emigrate for various personal reasons and the city still had “unlimited opportunities” after the implementation of the National Security Law and with the support of mainland China.

“If you really want me to say something to these Hong Kong people who have immigrated, are immigrating or intend to immigrate, I will tell them that the future of Hong Kong is very good,” she said at a July 20 media briefing.

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