Taiwan a refuge for stressed-out Hong Kongers

Vendor Ah Tong, seen here at his eatery in Shilin, moved his business from Hong Kong to Taiwan last year, when a record 7,498 people from Hong Kong and nearby Macau obtained residency in Taiwan - with the bulk of them from Hong Kong.
Vendor Ah Tong, seen here at his eatery in Shilin, moved his business from Hong Kong to Taiwan last year, when a record 7,498 people from Hong Kong and nearby Macau obtained residency in Taiwan - with the bulk of them from Hong Kong.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Carlos Cheung, 28, a Hong Kong emigrate to Taiwan, poses in front of his food stall in central Taichung on July 24, 2015. Squeezed by soaring rents, cramped living conditions, and unease over their city's political future, a growing number of Hong Ko
Carlos Cheung, 28, a Hong Kong emigrate to Taiwan, poses in front of his food stall in central Taichung on July 24, 2015. Squeezed by soaring rents, cramped living conditions, and unease over their city's political future, a growing number of Hong Kongers are seeking a better life in neighbouring Taiwan. --PHOTO: AFP

They cite high costs, cramped space and China's growing influence over the territory

TAIPEI • Squeezed by soaring rents, cramped living conditions, and unease over their city's political future, increasing numbers of Hong Kongers are leaving to seek a better life in neighbouring Taiwan.

The island, a 90-minute flight away, offers lower costs and an abundance of space - a rarity in Hong Kong, one of the world's most densely populated cities.

Mr Carlos Cheung, 28, moved to Taiwan's central Taichung City last year to run a noodle shop there.

He says being a food vendor in Hong Kong would have been impossible, with a closet-sized space costing 10 times his current monthly rent of HK$10,000 (S$1,822).

"How many skewers of fish balls or 'fried three treasures' would I have had to sell?" said Mr Cheung, referring to the common Hong Kong street snacks.

THE CHANGE

"Life here isn't as stressful and people are kinder and very happy to help."

MR DICKEN YEUNG, who moved to Taiwan over what he saw as the increasing influence of China on Hong Kong and a deterioration in the city's autonomy

The former luxury-watch salesman was able to make the move as his wife is Taiwanese.

"Sales here haven't been that bad, so I am not under much pressure," he said of his shop, Toi Heung Traditional Snacks.

Hong Kongers without family ties can apply for residency through investor programmes, as technical professionals in designated industries or as entrepreneurs.

Last year, a record 7,498 people from Hong Kong and nearby Macau obtained residency in Taiwan. Most were from Hong Kong.

Residents are increasingly worried that China is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city, with tensions sparking mass protests for full democracy at the end of last year. Some see Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, as offering respite from China's grip.

Fears over China's influence are not new - an estimated 40,300 Hong Kongers left the year before the handover by Britain in 1997, but the numbers jumping ship to previously popular destinations such as Canada and Australia have fallen.

Taiwan has its own difficult relationship with the mainland - since it broke away at the end of a civil war in 1949: Beijing views the island as part of its territory, awaiting reunification.

Mr Dicken Yeung, 38, moved to the island over what he saw as the increasing influence of China on Hong Kong and a deterioration in the city's autonomy.

"It's getting more and more communist," said Mr Yeung, who worked as a schoolteacher in Hong Kong and recently moved to Yilan county, on Taiwan's east coast.

"Law enforcement is becoming more like the Chinese public security and the judiciary, while not yet interfered with, is also going in that direction."

Mr Yeung entered under a programme that gave residency to those who had NT$5 million (S$217,000) deposited in a local bank, though the scheme was later scrapped. He says the pace of life in Taiwan is a pleasant contrast to frenzied Hong Kong. "Life here isn't as stressful and people are kinder and very happy to help."

"Living costs are so low. I also really like the environment here. In Taiwan, places are designed with people in mind, unlike in Hong Kong, where everything is fenced in."

Hong Kong applicants who enter Taiwan under its investor immigration programme need to make an investment of NT$6 million - real estate does not count.

That is much lower than the thresholds for similar programmes in Canada, Australia and Britain, according to Hong Kong-based Uni Immigration Consultancy.

"Some who want to move overseas, but don't have the money, are considering Taiwan," said Mr Tyson Ho, who advises clients at the agency. "It is also much closer."

For those chasing profits, a move to Taiwan may be disappointing - this year the economy is set for its weakest growth since 2009.

Snack vendor Ah Tong, 53, moved his business from Hong Kong to Taiwan last year after living on the island in the past - his wife is Taiwanese.

But he is feeling the pinch as the economy stagnates.

"Business isn't so good right now for all the shops here in Shilin," he said, referring to the popular night market where he opened his shop. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2015, with the headline 'Taiwan a refuge for stressed-out Hong Kongers'. Print Edition | Subscribe