Taiwan did not arbitrarily cite national security in rejecting applications for residency filed by immigrants from Hong Kong, a Taiwanese government agency has said.

Online articles claiming that the government of the self-ruled island had raised the threshold for Hong Kong people to settle were “biased and false,” the Mainland Affairs Council said in a Facebook post on Thursday evening.

A person, along with two kids, walking by Taiwan flag installation ahead of National Day celebrations in Taipei, Taiwan, 06 October, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

The administrative agency responsible for handling cross-strait affairs denied that immigration authorities had “abused” national security policy in refusing to grant Hongkongers’ residency permits.

The council pointed to “chaotic situations” surrounding residency applications from Hong Kong and Macau residents in recent years, saying that some immigration companies showed “traces of fake operations.” In a case cited by the agency, one applicant submitted false business contracts and receipts, while some withdrew their investment shortly after their residency status was granted, or returned back to Hong Kong.

“Therefore, in order to resolve the chaos, relevant authorities stepped up their examinations in accordance with regulations, which did not aim to increase the threshold,” the council wrote. It added that the authorities would release a list of “unscrupulous businessmen” in the immigration industry at an appropriate time.

The council’s remarks came around a week after Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao reported that the Taiwanese authorities rejected at least 70 administrative appeals concerning Hongkongers’ applications for residency and permanent residency over the past two years, records from the Executive Yuan showed.

Scooter riders passing by Taiwan flags installation ahead of National Day celebrations in Taipei, Taiwan, 06 October, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

Some appeals revealed that the National Immigration Agency and the Mainland Affairs Council had questioned applicants who are, or were, employed in public hospitals, universities, at Cathay Pacific and Maxim’s Caterers. They reportedly brought risks of “jeopardising national interests, public safety, public order or engagement in terrorist activities.”

The council told Ming Pao that the ratio of Hong Kong applicants who did not pass the screening was “extremely low,” adding that national security was not the only reason for rejection.

Hong Kong saw an exodus of residents, especially families and young individuals, since the Beijing-imposed national security law came into force in June 2020. The legislation enacted in the aftermath of 2019 extradition bill protests criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

Photo: GovHK.

There has also a growing number of Hongkongers gaining permanent residency over the past three years. Figures from the council showed that 1,474 Hong Kong people became permanent registered residents in 2019. The number increased to 1,576 in 2020, and rose further to 1,685 last year.

In 2019, a total of 5,858 Hongkongers obtained a permit to reside in Taiwan, according to figures from the Mainland Affairs Council. The number increased by more than 45 per cent in 2020, when 10,813 people from Hong Kong gained residency. In 2021, the figure rose to 11,173.

The council admitted on Thursday that the authorities did not fully state why the permit applications were refused. It urged agencies to “clearly disclose” the reasons for rejection to prevent misunderstandings brought about by some applicants who “deliberately take things out of context,” the administrative agency said.

“All applications are handled in accordance with laws. [We] stepped up the examination of cases involving factors linked to mainland [China], but there is no abuse of national security grounds in rejecting applications,” the Facebook post read.

The council went on to say that the Taiwanese government supported the “determination of Hongkongers in fighting for freedom and democracy.” There was also a growing number of Hongkongers who became residents and obtained a permanent residence permit in the last three years, it said.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.