Thousands of Hong Kong people in Taiwan fail to get residency

June 05, 2023 09:45
Photo: Reuters

Thousands of Hongkongers in Taiwan are trapped between their desire to settle and the government’s increasing suspicion of anyone who arrives from the city.

Between 2019 and 2022, nearly 40,000 Hong Kong people moved to Taiwan, an average of about 9,000 a year, compared to 4,000 in 2018. The peak was 11,173 in 2021, falling to 8,945 in 2022. Of the 2022 arrivals, only 1,300 have received permanent residency (PR). Among the migrants are more than 1,000 nurses.

One nurse, Mary, 56, moved to Taiwan in March 2021 as a professional immigrant, hoping to receive PR within one year. Two friends, also Hong Kong nurses who had moved earlier to Taiwan, received PR four months after filing their applications, even though they were not working as nurses in Taiwan and were not asked to present a local nursing certificate.

In March 2022, Mary filed her application for PR. In August that year, the National Immigration Agency (NIA) asked her to provide a nursing certificate issued in Taiwan – not demanded of her two friends and which she was not told before she migrated. Because she obtained her diploma in Hong Kong, she cannot take the nursing certificate exam in Taiwan.

Sadly, she has decided to give up and move to Canada, where her daughter lives.

The plight of the nurses is sufficiently serious that it is being investigated by the Control Yuan, the supervisory and audit department of the government.

Chi Hui-jung, a member of the Yuan’s National Human Rights Commission, said last week (May 30) that she was investigating why the government had refused the applications by the nurses for PR and what were the laws and regulations governing this.

Chi is a long-term activist for women’s rights and former chairperson of the Garden of Hope Foundation, a Christian NGO set up to protect women from abuse, sexual exploitation and domestic violence.

The nurses and other Hong Kong migrants are victims of the increasing suspicion of those coming from the city, as cross-straits relations deteriorate and the PLA increases its military exercises above and around the island.

In May this year, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) in Taiwan said it was considering a legal amendment to extend the minimum period for Hongkongers to stay before they can apply for PR from one to four years. Such applicants must have been born in Hong Kong and have no relatives in the mainland.

Under the amendment, mainland Chinese with PR in Hong Kong would have to stay in Taiwan for at least six years before they could apply. “The national security agencies are concerned that China might try to infiltrate Taiwan through Hong Kong,” an MAC official told the Taiwan media.

Each month officials from the MAC, NIA and the National Security Council meet to review applications by Hong Kong people. Many are rejected because applicants had worked for mainland Chinese-owned companies. The officials often demand more documents from the applicants, which further delay the process.
One popular category is investment immigrants. The MAC said that, after obtaining PR, some Hong Kong people withdrew or reduced their capital or closed their firm; and they did not resign from their job in Hong Kong. This defeated the purpose of the investment visa, it said.

Another barrier for nurses is a demand that they obtain a professional licence, which many cannot do. This is in part because all the exams, and medical terms, are in Mandarin, while Hong Kong nurses have trained in English and Cantonese.

The tougher rules have been introduced over the last two-three years. Those who met the requirements under the earlier, less strenuous rules, find their applications postponed for one to two years.

Dennis Leung, a migration consultant, said that the rules were changing. “My advice to Hong Kong people is to avoid the expense of moving the whole family to Taiwan. The situation is too uncertain. Some migrants who have been waiting for three-four years for PR have given up and moved to the UK, Canada or elsewhere.

“Some say that there are political factors involved. Well-qualified and experienced Hong Kong people with good English can take jobs from Taiwanese. And they are seen as more likely to vote for the Kuomintang than the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP),” he said.

Ironically, Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan last week approved the biggest reform in immigration law in 24 years. One of the main clauses makes it easier for skilled overseas professionals to gain residency.

National security, it seems, trumps skill and experience.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.