Crisis, better lifestyle attract Hong Kong people to Taiwan

December 02, 2019 11:17
Taiwan is the place in the world that gives Hong Kong people the lifestyle most similar to what they enjoy at home. Photo: Reuters

At the end of this year, celebrity Stephen Shiu Yeuk-yuen (萧若元) and his wife will emigrate from Hong Kong to Taiwan. “To leave Hong Kong is a painful decision,” he said. “But I saw the full text of the fourth plenum of the Central Committee. The Hong Kong legal system will be destroyed.”

Su is the most prominent Hong Kong person to leave for Taiwan. Since the protests began in June, thousands of people have been considering emigration.

In the July-October period, the police issued 13,810 applications for certificates of no criminal conviction, up from 8,019 in the same period in 2018. This certificate is a requirement for immigration to most countries.

The first choices remain Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. But the bar of entry to these countries is rising, especially for those born in the mainland or with a mainland background.

As such, many are looking to countries closer to home, including Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan, with lower bars of entry.

In the first nine months of this year, 3,109 Hong Kong people obtained the right of residence in Taiwan, up 29 percent from the same period in 2018. In the three years from 2016 to 2018, the number of Hong Kong people who obtained a Taiwan identity card and passport was 1,086, 1,074, and 1,090 respectively.

Taiwan has much to attract Hong Kong people. It is a Chinese society, whose food and culture are close to those in Hong Kong. Living space is larger and property prices significantly lower, especially outside Taipei city. Education is in Chinese – Mandarin – but with less of the "stuffed duck" learning and cramming of Hong Kong.

Taiwan is the place in the world that gives Hong Kong people the lifestyle most similar to what they enjoy at home.

It is also one of the few places in the world to offer universal medical care, at a low cost. After six months’ residence, a Hong Kong person is eligible. The quality of care is excellent and waiting time at government hospitals is shorter than in Hong Kong.

One downside is that wages are substantially lower. As of Jan. 1, 2019, the minimum monthly wage is NT$23,100 (US$756.77). Thousands of Taiwanese work in the mainland because of the higher wages there.

This means that consumption in Taiwan is weak, for new arrivals opening restaurants, coffee and boutique shops and hotels. In addition, competition from local companies is intense and new market entrants are not always welcome.

Another downside is political risk. China has vowed to reunify Taiwan, by consent or force if necessary, under the "one country, two systems" formula.

In the January election, President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party is almost certain to win a second term. During her first term, relations with Beijing deteriorated sharply. This will continue in her second term.

“Taiwan is a very secure place,” said Jacky Lee of the Allwins Group that helps Hong Kong people emigrate.

“The US government will never give up Taiwan. It will never reunify with the mainland."

A proportion of the applicants are those who have retired or are approaching retirement and do not need to make a living in Taiwan. They have money to buy an apartment there and live off their savings and pensions; some rent out their apartments in Hong Kong.

There are four routes to emigration – investment, creative enterprise, skilled person, and after graduation from a Taiwan university. Investment requires setting up a company, in any field, and investing NT$6 million.

The Taiwan government inspects strictly those born in the mainland and who received Hong Kong identity cards after 1997, including their families and possible links to the Chinese government and Communist Party. Applicants must give up their People's Republic of China passport.

Mary Leung emigrated from Hong Kong in March 2017, moving to the central city of Taichung with her husband and three children. They live in a six-room suburban house of 3,000 square feet and pay a monthly rent of HK$6,000. Her husband works in the same field of outdoor planning as in Hong Kong, for a lower salary.

Leung said that they decided to move after the failure of the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and felt that Hong Kong was changing for the worse. A second reason was the four hours of homework each day for their children, which she believed was robbing them of their childhood.

In Taichung, the three attend a public school and spend one hour a day on homework, giving them time to play with other children. The suburbs offer open space and access to mountains not available in Hong Kong. The family rents out its Hong Kong apartment for income.

If the protests continue and there is no resolution of Hong Kong’s political crisis, more people will follow Mary Leung and her family.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.