Taiwan restricts migration of Hong Kong people

October 10, 2022 09:31
Photo: Reuters

At the end of 2020, Paul Leung and his wife invested NT$6 million in a business in Taiwan, to meet the criteria as an investor immigrant. A year later, they applied for permanent residency but were told to wait for a further year, pending further inquiries.

“Previously, Hong Kong people like me received approval after one year. Now we have not been given an explanation and are waiting. We are paying several thousand HK dollars of rent every month. We are not ready to wait indefinitely and are preparing to apply for the UK,” he said.

Leung is not alone. He is one of the many unfortunate victims of the deteriorating relations between Beijing and Taipei. The Ming Pao newspaper last week reported that, over the last two years, more than 70 Hong Kong people had their applications for immigration or residency rejected on the grounds of “national security”. They include those who had worked in public hospitals, universities, Cathay Pacific and even Maxim’s Caterers.

In 2020, the Taiwan government revised its regulations for Hong Kong applicants, saying that they must be approved by the National Security Bureau and Mainland Affairs Council, in addition to the National Immigration Agency.

The number of applicants has increased sharply since the 2019 protests. Taiwan offers a lifestyle closer to that in Hong Kong than anywhere else in the world. Its media is one of the freest in Asia, and citizens vote for the President, members of Parliament and local officials. In May 2019, Taiwan approved same-sex marriage, the first country in Asia to do so.

The number of approved migrants from HK in 2019, 2020 and 2021 were 5,858 and 10,813 and 11,173 respectively. The 2021 figure was a record. During the three years, 1,474, 1,576 and 1,685 received permanent residence.

Reasons for rejection include membership of the Communist Party, the PLA or other entities with mainland links. A mainland spouse and birth in the mainland are also negative for an application.

In June, Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正), Deputy Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, said that the most common reason for Hongkongers to be denied residency was making dishonest claims about investing in Taiwan, followed by failing to pass a national security assessment. “Shell corporations are often created to back untrue claims,” he said.

“Immigration officers do not reject an applicant as a matter of policy, only if multiple risk factors are identified in the background check.” He said that his government was committed to helping Hongkongers on the condition that Taiwan’s national security was not compromised. “Policies are continually being reviewed and improved,” he said.

Wong Siu-ming, a secondary school teacher, plans to move to Taiwan next February with his wife. “Fortunately, I work in a private school, so I do not need to take an oath of allegiance to the SAR government. Also I did university studies in Taipei, which puts you on a preferential path. I have never lived or worked in the mainland nor worked for a mainland company. Nor has my wife. We are 100 per cent Hong Kong people. We also have a sponsor in Taipei.”

He admitted both he and his wife, a journalist, were not optimistic about their job prospects. “Taiwan has a very low birth rate and many teachers. My Mandarin is fluent but still not as good as that of many in Taiwan. We do not speak Taiwanese. We will do what jobs we can get,” he said.

The fear and suspicion of the Taiwan government is understandable. During the past two years, military activity by the PLA around – and sometimes above – the island has intensified, especially during a visit by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi in August. The mainland media maintains a relentless drumbeat of anti-Taiwan rhetoric.

A survey published in the Yuan Jian (遠見) magazine of Taiwan in September found that 76.7 per cent of ordinary people and 64.8 per cent of companies believed that the likelihood of a cross-straits war had increased after the Pelosi visit.

Beijing would prefer unification by peaceful means to a blockade or invasion. For all these, it needs as much intelligence as possible and to have agents and informants within state agencies and large companies in Taiwan.

A business consultant in Hong Kong said that, for many years, Taiwan had been a principal objective of the United Front department. “It targets the many Taiwan businessmen in the mainland. It invites retired Taiwan military officers, especially those born to mainland families, to China and provides them with holidays and mistresses. It aims to persuade officers that they would lose a war with the PLA, so that it would be better to make a settlement and not kill other Chinese.

“During the Kuomintang presidency of 2008-2016, it had unprecedented access to Taiwan and recruited many people,” he said.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.