TAIPEI: Martin Wan was born and bred in Hong Kong, but now calls Taiwan home. The 25-year-old emigrated there last year to realise his dream of starting his own business.
He is now an owner of an eyewear store in Taoyuan City in northern Taiwan - something that would not have been possible if he had stayed in Hong Kong, where operating costs are about three times that of Taiwan, he said.
“Compared to Taiwan, Hong Kong’s operating costs are too high. With the same amount of capital invested, you can take more time to build your business and brand in Taiwan,” he told Channel NewsAsia.
Hong Kong’s high cost of living and property prices have also made the lives of many young people like Martin very difficult. “Our generation of Hong Kongers can’t envision our future. Maybe our salary is higher, but after deducting rent and living expenses, we can’t save much money,” he said.
Hong Kong’s changing political climate in recent years is another factor behind Martin's decision to leave the city to make Taiwan - one of Asia's most vibrant democracies - his permanent home.
In Hong Kong, voters do not get to select the city's leader through a direct poll. Instead, the post of Hong Kong Chief Executive is elected by a secret ballot of 1,200 election committee members.
The standoff between student leaders with Beijing-backed city officials, during mass protests over political reforms in 2014, left many young people in Hong Kong even more disillusioned, Martin pointed out.
“Taiwan has an electoral system. You can vote unsuitable politicians out of office. But in Hong Kong we can’t. So more Hong Kong residents want to come here or move somewhere else,” he said.
More and more Hong Kongers like Martin want to make Taiwan their new home, going by latest official data. According to Taiwan's immigration agency, the number of Hong Kong residents moving to Taiwan permanently rose 40 per cent last year, reaching a 16-year high. And they account for 80 per cent of all the 1,273 foreigners who received the island’s permanent resident status last year.
A recent survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong shows 40 per cent of respondents want to leave Hong Kong and most prefer to move to Taiwan. And it is not just people pouring in, but money as well: Investments from Hong Kong and Macau increased 60 per cent from 2015 to nearly US$600 million last year.
Heman Ko founded Hong Kong & Macau Association in Taipei to tap on the business opportunity from the growing number of immigrants from the two areas. (Photo: Victoria Jen)
Heman Ko, who moved to Taiwan from Hong Kong nearly three decades ago is banking on the opportunity. He founded the Hong Kong & Macau Association half a year ago to provide services to new immigrants from the two areas.
“With the same amount of money, Hong Kongers can rent and live in a more comfortable environment. That’s why many prefer to move to Taiwan,” he said, echoing Martin.
The fact that Taiwan has a lower threshold of a minimum of NT$6 million (US$200,000) investment for immigration, compared to other developed countries makes the island more appealing, he said.
"For those from Hong Kong who choose to do investment immigration in Taiwan, they are mostly 44 to 55 years old. And each family invests about US$300,000."
For now, it seems Hong Kong’s loss could be Taiwan’s gain. Observers told Channel NewsAsia the influx of Hong Kong immigrants would likely improve the island’s investment climate and talent pool.