Taiwan denies residency to Hong Kong applicants born in mainland China

Tens of thousands are moving to the democratic island amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in their hometown.
By Chun Yam
Taiwan denies residency to Hong Kong applicants born in mainland China Taiwan foreign minister Joseph Wu holds a sample of a new Taiwan passport, Jan. 11, 2021.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have been emigrating to the democratic island of Taiwan since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposed a draconian national security law on the city in July 2020, ushering in a crackdown on public dissent and political opposition.

The process isn't without its limitations, according to many recent migrants, but those who were born in China, whose government has repeatedly threatened to annex Taiwan in recent years, are finding it tougher than most.

A recent investigation by RFA revealed at least 40 applicants from Hong Kong who want to move to Taiwan, but are facing hurdles due to their place of birth and a lack of clear communication from the island's labrynthine immigration bureaucracy.

Some have complained that being born in China under CCP rule wasn't something they chose, and won't protect them if they are pursued alongside native Hongkongers for crimes like sedition, subversion and "collusion with foreign powers" if they run afoul of the authorities there.

While Taiwan formally amended its immigration rules in 2020 to allow those born in China to apply alongside other residents of Hong Kong and Macau, many are still being rejected.

One applicant surnamed Lee said he and his wife applied for investment immigration to Taiwan in 2019 to run an online retail outlet, but were rejected for a residence permit in October 2021. Lee's birthplace in mainland China was cited as one of the reasons for the decision.

"They are a government, and they need to follow the rules, not be capricious and keep moving the goalposts," Lee told RFA. "People are planning their whole lives around this stuff, and it's a huge disruption."

He brushed aside the authorities' fears that CCP agents might infiltrate Taiwan under the guise of investors, as has previously happened, saying he was miserable during the 30 years he spent living in China "being persecuted by the CCP."

Lee applied amid the 2019 mass protest movement against extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China and its calls for fully democratic elections, knowing that "this time, the CCP wasn't going to go easy" on the city.

Now that his investment visa has fallen through, Lee is back in Hong Kong, trying to find another way to leave.

A fellow Hongkonger surnamed Mak, a teacher who was also born in China, said she has tried to take the same immigration route as Lee.

Like Lee, she started making plans to move to Taiwan around the time of the 2019 protest movement, but never thought she would run into so many obstacles.

"I chose to move to Taiwan, because I like it there," Mak told RFA. "But I feel like I was accused of being a spy, and I'm innocent."

Mak said she hasn't been granted any right of reply to the opaque immigration decision-making process, unlike someone accused openly of a crime.

"If you want to find someone guilty, you should have to provide evidence," she said. "They seem to be saying that we're spies just because we were born in China, but is everyone who was born in Hong Kong a safe bet?"

"This rule is ridiculous."

'Asking myself who I am'

Mak said she is also regarded as a mainlander in Taiwan, despite having no household registration in China any longer, and has been educated in Hong Kong since the second year of primary school.

"I only lived in the mainland for seven or eight years, but I have lived in Hong Kong for more than 40 years, so where would you say my home is?" she said.

"I would never have even thought of myself as a mainland Chinese if I hadn't come to Taiwan," Mak said. "Now I'm even asking myself who I am."

A Taiwan interior ministry official told RFA said people are generally turned down if they haven't lived long in Hong Kong as permanent residents, they have a mainland Chinese spouse, or their investment plan doesn't closely match their actual business activities.

Rejected applicants can appeal to the Executive Yuan, but publicly available statistics show that no appeal has ever been successful.

Immigration consultant Chang Hsiang-liang said she was unaware that China-born applicants are still being turned down.

"A lot of people were affected by this [at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021] when they were still revising the law, but now maybe they might review those decisions and grant residency," Chang said.

"It could take six or nine months or even a year for the whole process to happen," she said. "I think if [these applicants] want to reapply for settlement, they will need to redo their business plans and put in a lot more work over the next year or two."

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said applicants should be given permission to immigrate as long as there were no national security concerns, and that those rejected could consider reapplying.

More than 11,000 people traveled to Taiwan for the purposes of settlement in 2021, compared with around 10,800 in 2020, according to immigration statistics.

But while around 1,600 Hong Kong residents were granted residency in each year, neither the MAC nor the immigration authorities would respond to requests for the number of applicants rejected for the scheme who were born in China.

Current immigration rules allow for former CCP members, officials or members of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to be barred from residency.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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