by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: 和平奮鬥救地球/WikiCommon/CC

WITH THE CLAIM that Taiwanese universities are welcoming students from Hong Kong unable to finish their studies due to the ongoing protests, perhaps some caution is warranted as to whether universities have genuinely taken action to help Hongkongers or whether this is simply just virtue signaling by Taiwanese universities.

What is true of Taiwan’s asylum policy toward Hongkongers is more generally true regarding Hongkongers that seek refuge in Taiwan through education. After all, with the possibility of acquiring residency through starting businesses, investment, or owning property out of the hands of all but the most wealthy Hongkongers, education is one of the more accessible means by which Hongkongers could obtain residency status in Taiwan. As such, it is not surprising that with reports of a sharp uptick in the number of students from Hong Kong seeking to apply to Taiwanese institutions of higher education, this reportedly also includes a number of adult students.

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen (center). Photo credit: Tsai Ing-wen/Facebook

The Tsai administration originally suggested that it would take action to help Hongkongers involved in the current protests who required refuge in Taiwan. Yet the Tsai administration later backed away from such claims, claiming that there was no need to pass any specialized procedure to aid Hong Kong asylum seekers. As Taiwan does not have any asylum application process, it was instead claimed that asylum seekers would be handled on a case-by-case basis, and that the existing immigration procedures were sufficient for Hongkongers.

It is very probable that the Tsai administration originally expressed support for Hongkongers in order to benefit its election chances in 2020 elections. But after it appeared as though a large number of Hongkongers would, indeed, travel to Taiwan to seek asylum, the Tsai administration backed away from its previous claim.

Taiwan has historically been poor on refugee issues. Earlier this year, the Taiwanese government struggled to decide what to do regarding just five asylum cases, but it is thought that there are now upwards of 200 Hongkongers currently seeking asylum in Taiwan.

Taiwanese universities as National Taiwan University, National Chiao Tung University, National Tsing Hua University, National Cheng Chi University, National Cheng Kung University, National Taiwan Normal University, and National Dong Hwa University stated that they would welcome students studying in Hong Kong to take courses. This includes Taiwanese students studying in Hong Kong, Hong Kong students themselves, and students of other nationalities studying in Hong Kong.

However, first, one notes that some offers by universities of being welcome to Hong Kong students still seem to emphasize being welcome to Taiwanese students studying in Hong Kong that wish to complete their education back home, not to Hongkongers. And as for programs welcoming Hong Kong students, this was to allow Hong Kong students to sit in on courses in Taiwan for the remainder of the semester, which would end in January.

It is possible that after the semester ends, Hongkonger students will have to return to Hong Kong, having only had a month or so to stay in Taiwan, and, as they would only be auditing courses, they would be unable to transfer credits to their original institutions either. As such, the incentive for Hongkonger students to apply to study in Taiwan is actually rather low.

Photo credit: 寺人孟子/WikiCommons/CC

According to the Taiwanese Ministry of Education, there are plans to open short-term and long-term programs of study for Hong Kong students. At least NTU has announced a program to accept students with two terms of study in Hong Kong to enroll as sophomores or juniors. However, this still requires an application process for Hong Kong students to be allowed to enroll, rather than being a transfer process. It is to be questioned as to how feasible going through a formal application process would be for Hong Kong students facing the possibility of a decade or more in jail and who may urgently need means of escaping Hong Kong at present.

Taiwanese universities claiming that they are welcoming Hong Kong students may be—as with claims by the Taiwanese government that they are willing to help Hongkongers—more talk than action. It remains to be seen as to how to pressure Taiwanese universities and the government in order to take more concrete action that is simply not an attempt to better one’s public image.

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