A survey published recently found that 21 per cent of Hong Kong people are considering emigration because of the uncertainty over the future. One of the options on the table is Taiwan.
According to figures from the National Immigration Agency of Taiwan, 3,678 Hong Kong and Macau people received approval to work or study there in the first 11 months of 2013, up from 3,195 and 2,455 in the full years of 2012 and 2011 respectively.
In the 11-month period, 570 Hong Kong and Macau people received the right of permanent residence compared with 711 and 540 for the whole of 2012 and 2011.
The agency figures show a tripling in the number of Hong Kong and Macau people visiting the island. They hit a record 1.06 million in 2013 compared with 354,000 in 2006 and 267,000 in 2003. In the first seven months of the year, it was 723,000. These show the increasing interest of Hong Kong people in the island.
Its government sees them as desirable migrants — Chinese-speaking, hard working, educated and coming from a non-Communist society. It is, with Singapore, the easiest place for Hong Kong people to adapt.
Taiwan offers different routes for emigration.
The most common is to invest NT$10 million and apply for investment immigrant status; this year, the government raised the amount from the previous NT$5 million. That compares to NT$15 million for foreigners from elsewhere.
“We would like to reap more economic benefits from this immigration scheme,” said Huang Ying-kuei, chief of the residency affairs section of the NIA. This sum is within the means of thousands of middle-class families in Hong Kong.
Another route is for Hong Kong students to stay on after graduation; after remaining for five years, they can apply for residency. The government has dropped a requirement that they return home for at least two years.
Among the migrants are Ted Shiu and Noddy Lau; with four other HK investors, they opened the Artista Perfetto coffee shop in Zhongxiao East Road in central Taipei near the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. “We came here to realise our dreams and begin living our lives,” said Shiu.
“If you have a shop in Hong Kong, you spend all the time fretting about earning enough to cover the rent. Leases for Hong Kong retail space are five to 10 times more expensive than equivalent spaces in Taiwan,” he said.
Lau said: “When friends ask me how I am doing in Taiwan, I say life is good. They reply that they are just surviving in Hong Kong.”
They are among many who have invested in the culture and tourism sectors – opening coffee shops, art galleries, bed and breakfasts and working in the theater circuit. Culture is a priority sector in the government’s economic plan; it is better funded and more developed than in Hong Kong.
Property prices are a major attraction. Outside central Taipei, housing prices average one-third of those in Hong Kong.
Other advantages are a slower pace of life, a sense of community, good manners and a vibrant civil society, with associations and interests to appeal to every taste.
There is also a sense of distance from the mainland. Last year, 2.83 million mainlanders visited Taiwan, a fraction of the 40.7 million in Hong Kong, a much smaller area. Immigration from the mainland is strictly controlled. Taiwan has its own government, armed forces, police and state institutions to protect it from takeover by Beijing.
But the island has downsides, too. Its economy is weaker than that of Hong Kong.
The average monthly salary of a university graduate in Taiwan is NT$22,000-25,000, half of that in Hong Kong. In 2012, the average non-farm worker in Taiwan had an income of US$1,550, compared with US$2,119 in Hong Kong, US$2,500 in South Korea and US$3,500 in Singapore.
Between 2002 and 2012, this wage fell by an average 0.31 per cent a year compared with increases in the three other “little dragons”. The island is full of highly educated, poorly paid graduates.
This is why many Hong Kong migrants open their own businesses, restaurants and coffee shops; it is hard to compete in the labor market.
Another downside is that the society speaks Mandarin and Taiwanese, not Cantonese. The migrant must give up the privilege of living in the world’s most dynamic Cantonese city.
Another issue — for the future, not the present — is how long Taiwan can retain independence from the mainland. A substantial section of its political and business elite has concluded that its only future is economic integration with China, which will mean a political cost.
Beijing is using every means – military, diplomatic, economic and cultural – to accelerate unification; politicians in Taiwan have not developed a practical strategy to prevent it.
So Taiwan will remain an emigration choice for only a portion of the Hong Kong population – such as the educated middle class and those interested in culture and the arts. The top choices will remain the United States, Canada and Australia.
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