The democratic island has a slew of rules barring those born in China or its former officials from residency.
By Jojo Man for RFA Cantonese
January 30, 2023
People with flags bearing Hong Kong independence slogans march in support of Save12, the campaign to save 12 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, in central Taipei on October 25, 2020. Earlier this month, Taiwan’s immigration bureau published, then removed, rules banning Hong Kongers in Taiwan from taking part in demonstrations, among other things.
An experienced immigration lawyer has hit out at Taiwanese officials over ongoing restrictions on Hong Kong migrants, which appear to run counter to its democratic government's vocal opposition to China's treatment of dissent in the city.
While it is theoretically possible for a Hong Konger to achieve residency in Taiwan within one year of arriving on a different visa, many with connections to mainland China – which has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan – or who have served in the city's government find their cases dragging out far longer than that, lawyer Lee Rih-chun told Radio Free Asia.
"They just don't want them to get residency within one year – the so-called reasons they give for this are just empty words," said Lin, who has specialized in immigration cases for the past six years.
"They shouldn't let everyone apply, only to find out that it doesn't take one year, but three or four, and they may not get it anyway," he said.
Taiwan formally amended its immigration rules in 2020 to allow those born in China to apply for residency alongside other residents of Hong Kong and Macau, as part of a package of policies offering an immigration route to those targeted for the peaceful expression of their political views under a draconian national security law.
But Lin said the immigration department doesn't seem to have gotten the memo.
"They have made the rules public to the whole world," he said. "Why then is the government ... not obeying the law?"
Earlier this month, the immigration bureau published, then removed, new rules banning Hong Kongers in Taiwan from taking part in demonstrations or election campaigns, giving media interviews or "entering, sneaking around or taking photos or video at military and national defense properties."
The Mainland Affairs Council later distanced itself from the rules, saying only that Hong Kongers only need to abide by existing Taiwanese law.
A Hong Konger who gave the nickname Sally said she was worried about upsetting the authorities and getting deported.
"After reading this document, I thought maybe it would be safer for me to go back to Hong Kong than to stay in Taiwan," she told Radio Free Asia at the time.
Meanwhile, applicants for permanent residency with China ties or an official background are being required to undergo "supervision" periods after arriving, violating their legal right to a timely decision, Lin said.
They also face repeated and intrusive interviews on the justification for their migration plans, including how they will support elderly relatives they applied to bring with them as dependents, he said.
No mainlanders allowed
Taiwan's immigration rules state that nobody found to endanger the island's national interests, public security, public order, nor citizens of mainland China, will be given permanent residency in the island, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.
But Lin said officials seem to use repeated delaying tactics with applicants they're not sure about, rather than giving them a definitive answer.
"There shouldn't be delays of more than four months, whatever the arrangements," he said, citing the island's administration procedure laws. "There's no provision in law for probation periods, only for refusing an application."
An official who replied to a query from Radio Free Asia said all applications from Hong Kongers with links to China or its government, party or military must be jointly reviewed by several agencies, and rejected if there are fears for national security.
"Many Hong Kong residents have been approved to settle here already," the official said. "If there are doubts, a decision will be reserved, but the person concerned may remain in Taiwan while the review process continues."
An official with Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council denied that the "observation periods" being imposed on applicants were inhumane.
"This has nothing to do with disciplinary action," the official said, citing some applications that had "violated the original intention" of the safe haven policy.
However, even successful applicants have encountered obstacles when applying to have elderly dependent relatives join them from Hong Kong.
Submit a ‘life plan’
A Hong Konger who gave only the nickname April said she already has residency and wants to bring her 85-year-old mother to live with her in Taiwan.
Her mother is now under a three-month mandatory "observation" period, and has been required to submit a written "life plan" to the immigration bureau.
"What has she got to plan for, at 80-something years old, I thought to myself," April said. "She has already gotten health insurance ... so she won't be using up resources."
A Hong Konger who gave only the nickname April says wants to bring her 85-year-old mother to live with her in Taiwan. Her mother is now under an "observation" period and must submit a written "life plan" to the immigration bureau. Credit: Provided by respondent
Another applicant who gave only the nickname Anna said immigration authorities had started an investigation into her business and the investment visa that depends on it after she applied to bring her mother to Taiwan.
"My investment visa and ID card have already been approved, so they should proceed logically," she said. "I don't think I should have to go back over the details of my investment immigration process."
According to publicly available documents, the authorities have rejected a total of 12 applications for dependents of residency-holders, and their subsequent appeals, since 2020.
"The reason for reserving decisions and undergoing observation is to verify that the reason for the application is genuine," the Mainland Affairs Council said in a reply to Radio Free Asia. "The competent authority naturally needs to examine the needs, purpose and necessity of the applicant's coming to Taiwan to rely on relatives. Attachments are irrelevant."
"A lot of Hong Kong families are now separated [due to similar issues]," Anna's husband said. "How long will we be separated for and when will we get a decision?"
Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.