“Ireland, the new favourite for emigration. One passport, three identities. Tax as low as 12.5 per cent. The only English-speaking country in the European Union.”
So reads an advertisement on the Chinese-language website of Bartra Capital Property, a company headquartered in Dublin that encourages Hong Kong and mainland Chinese to emigrate to Ireland.
Eight months of street protests have sparked a surge in interest in emigration options among Hong Kong people. Every week companies hold seminars with detailed advice on how to move.
The easiest way to go to Ireland is through the Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP), established by the Irish Department of Justice and Equality (DJE) in 2012. It is similar to programs offered by several countries – they do not require the applicant to move and have no language or academic bar nor age limit.
According to the DJE, more than 1,000 people have successfully applied for the program, with a further 350 applications being processed. They have brought over 700 million euros of investment into the Irish economy. Of the applicants, about 93 percent are Chinese nationals, from Hong Kong and the mainland.
Since the middle of last year, interest from Hong Kong people in Ireland has increased dramatically.
This is what the DJE says about the IIP:
“Applicants must be high net worth individuals with a personal wealth of at least €2 million and no criminal record. It offers four investment options for potential investors:
One — Enterprise Investment: A minimum of €1 million invested in an Irish enterprise for a period of at least three years.
Two — Investment Fund: A minimum of €1 million invested in an approved investment fund for a period of at least three years. Such funds must be approved and regulated by the Central Bank.
Three — Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT): A minimum investment of €2 million in any Irish REIT listed on the Irish Stock Exchange, for a period of at least three years.
Four — Endowment: A minimum €500,000 philanthropic donation to a project of public benefit to the arts, sports, health, culture or education in Ireland.”
Once an application is approved, the person is given permission to live in Ireland with his or her spouse and children below 18.
Ireland’s program is more expensive than similar ones in the European Union. Greece, Cyprus and Portugal offer residency visas for property purchases between 250,000 and 500,000 euros.
Ireland is more familiar to Hong Kong people than these countries. It is English-speaking. More than 6,000 Hongkongers have graduated from Irish universities; about 300 Hong Kong people are studying in schools and universities in the country.
Also, tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong have studied in Catholic schools run by Irish priests. The institutions include Wah Yan College and the La Salle Colleges.
The Bartra website lists the benefits of an Irish passport – visa-free access to 185 countries: the only EU passport that allows the holder to live and work in UK: the highest GDP growth rate in the EU: a tax rate of 12.5 percent at least until 2025: an education system ranked seventh in the world: the Silicon Valley of Europe, with more than 1,000 large high-technology companies: top in the world for food safety and air quality: Dublin, Cork and Galway ranked among the top friendliest cities in the world.
The country is well-endowed with golf courses and racing tracks – 3,000 Hong Kong people own or part-own racehorses.
Andrew Leung, an emigration consultant, said the main drawback of Ireland for Hong Kong people was a lack of familiarity. “The traditional centers of emigration are Canada, the United States, Australia and UK, which have large HK communities,” he said. “So people here know what life is like in those countries, for good or bad, and that there is a community they can fall back on. They know nothing about Ireland unless they have studied or visited there.”
One downside for Hong Kong people is the climate, with temperatures of four-seven degrees Centigrade in January and February and 750-1,000 millimeters of rain a year in the east and 1,000-1,250 mm in the west. In the east, there are an average of 151 days a year with at least one millimeter of rain in the east and southeast.
There is a Chinese community there. According to official figures issued in 2016, there were 9,575 Chinese in Ireland. In the first three decades after World War Two, most came from Hong Kong. From the 1970s, they came from Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore; and in the last two decades, students and graduates from mainland China.
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