According to the Hong Kong Transition Project of Hong Kong Baptist University, in 2002, the population of Hong Kong Returnees numbered at 3% of the Hong Kong population. This number was arrived at by survey and a participant is categorised as "Returnee" by self-identification. As such, it excluded those Hong Kongers surveyed that have foreign citizenship, but did not self-identify as "Returnee".
Most returnees left Hong Kong during the 1980s and the 1990s, after the announcement of the back to Chinese rule. It is estimated that nearly one-sixth of the population of Hong Kong emigrated between 1984 and 1997. The destination of choice was usually a western country, most popular amongst them were Canada, Australia, and the United States.
There are typically two types of emigrants, those who planned on returning to Hong Kong after they obtained foreign citizenship, and those who planned on staying in their adopted homes permanently and fully adapting to life there. The former are sometimes better described as ''sojourners'' rather than emigrants. However, often these two types of Hong Kong emigrants act against what they had planned, where some of those who had planned on permanent stays actually returned to Hong Kong, and sojourners planned on temporary stays actually made the decision to stay permanently in their adopted homelands.
It is estimated that 30% of those Hong Kongers who moved away in the 1980s have returned to Hong Kong. Those that have moved back to Hong Kong have returned for various reasons - for economic reasons, or simply because they enjoy living in Hong Kong more than they do elsewhere. Specifically, many wealthy Hong Kongers who emigrated to Canada found that they could not adjust to the economic culture in Canada. The higher taxes, the higher occurrence of "red tape", as well as the language barrier made it difficult for them to do business. Comparatively speaking, doing business in Hong Kong was much easier.
"The concept of ‘return migration’ doesn’t quite capture the contingency and fuzziness of Hong Kong emigrant strategies. Returnees could go back to Australia at any stage, especially if they gained Australian citizenship. They could be planning to move back on retirement, or if there are unfavourable ‘changes’ in Hong Kong. suggests the term ‘return movement’, since ‘return migration’ assumes a permanency which may not be justified. Nevertheless, return movements should be distinguished from visits and various types of business and social ‘commuting’ of a very short-term nature."
Issues of identity have sometimes arisen for returnees, especially amongst those returnees that left Hong Kong when they were children, because of the change in national identity of Hong Kong the city itself due to Hong Kong returning to Chinese rule, and because of the life experiences gained living in their previously adopted homes outside of Hong Kong.
Many of those who returned to Hong Kong were husbands who left their entire families in their adopted homes, while they worked in Hong Kong. These husbands were dubbed ''Taai Hung Yahn'' , or "astronauts" because they spend their lives flying back and forth between Hong Kong and the adopted homes of their families. The absence of these husbands from their families often create tension in their relationships.
''Taai Hung Yahn'' is also a play on words. Taking a more literal meaning of the Chinese characters for "astronaut", ''Taai Hung Yahn'' can translate loosely to "man without a wife".