Less known than the mainland Chinese, the Taiwanese residents have been gradually growing in the last years and are gaining more representation in Portugal.
The Taiwanese community faces its own problems, from confusion in recognition by the immigration authorities, to the lack of official channels available to solve simple bureaucratic problems.
Still, a new generation of newcomers or descendants of Taiwanese emigrants with better language skills and financial resources has discovered Portugal as an ideal place for study, business, or even retirement.
PIONEERS IN FORMOSA
It was in 1544 that Portuguese sailors discovered the island off the southern coast of China – the first Europeans to do so – which they dubbed Formosa. The political and economic instability on the island after World War II led to a wave of immigration in the 1950s and 1960s to various destinations, including the United States, Canada, Australia, or to Latin America.
In 1975, Portugal officially cut diplomatic relations with the Republic of China to the detriment of the People’s Republic of China, yet some Taiwanese would arrive in the country.
The official Taiwanese representative in Portugal, Tsung Chechang, still remembers the tiny scale of the community when he was in Portugal for the first time in 1993 to learn Portuguese.
“At that time there were two families from Taiwan living here, restaurant owners. It wasn’t very crowded and I remember that on Chinese New Year’s Eve we invited all the Taiwanese people we knew to a dinner where we had four tables in the restaurant, one of those traditional Chinese tables that fit about 10 people each. We were not enough to fill those four tables,” he recalls.
However, he indicates that since he took office this year he has been surprised by the increase in the number of young Taiwanese who have emigrated to Portugal either to study or via gold visas.
One young woman who exemplifies this new wave is Enya Chan, a Taiwanese born in Brazil who has been living in Portugal for the past six years.
Enya works as director of the immigration department at a Portuguese tax accounting firm, and her Facebook page “Doce língua portuguesa” is perhaps one of the most important sources in Mandarin for the community, with travel information, current affairs, and “immigrant life.”
Taiwanese is also one of the founding members of the Portugal Taiwan Youth Chamber of Commerce, an association established this year as a platform for job offers, entrepreneurship and assistance for Taiwanese students in the country.
“It was only in the last two years that Taiwanese started applying for Portuguese immigration, but most of them went through immigration agencies instead of directly seeking law firms or tax accounting firms,” he tells PLATAFORMA.
“This year, due to the pandemic and political factors, the number of Taiwanese clients who came to us directly for consultation increased significantly. There are also more and more Taiwanese companies thinking about setting up businesses in Portugal, because Portugal is the center of Europe and costs are relatively low.”
The good balance between professional and personal life in Portugal, the personality of the Portuguese, are some of the aspects that led her to choose the country as her new home.
“After getting to know the Portuguese, we discovered that they are kind and that they have their own way of thinking and trying to understand others. I think the emotional quotient of the Portuguese is quite high.
The legal professional believes that currently about 80 percent of Taiwanese living in Portugal have moved to the country “for love,” because they have relationships with Portuguese nationals or foreigners living in the country.
“There are relatively few Taiwanese working here. Except for the second or third generation Taiwanese who speak Portuguese. All the other workers speak English as their main language. They may work in foreign companies, be digital nomads, or have their own companies and stores,” he points out.
May Jian, a banking professional from Kaohsiung in southwest Taiwan, moved to Portugal in 2016, where she lives with her Danish husband and four-year-old daughter.
As advantages of living in Portugal, she points out something common to the Taiwanese contacted for this report: mild climate, a safe and welcoming society for foreigners, and a lifestyle less focused on work.
However, the other side of the coin also shows many common concerns: slow public services, with special emphasis on immigration, and a society not very accessible for foreigners who do not master English.
“The most difficult problems in Portugal are related to applying for resident status or for public institutions. All documents in Taiwan can be applied for quickly, like changing an identity card or applying for any document. Two weeks is a lot. But in Portugal all documents and medical systems need to be timed in months.”
A FLEXIBLE EXISTENCE
According to Tsung, officially Portuguese immigration records indicate that there are about 46 Taiwanese in Portugal, but he believes the real number is much higher.
“There are many Taiwanese who when they arrive here and register their Residence Cards indicate they are from Taiwan, but since the official name in our passport is Republic of China, many times people make a mistake and put People’s Republic of China,” Tsung explains to PLATAFORMA.
“The SEF (Foreigners and Border Services) has a Taiwan nationality category, only the officials sometimes don’t quite know the difference and put China. I believe the true number of Taiwanese in Portugal will be between 100 and 200.”
According to the representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center – the de facto embassy in the country – since it officially began its duties in July of this year, it has received at least four cases of complaints from Taiwanese who received a residence card with the wrong designation.
Although it is currently only 13 countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it is common for there to be economic and diplomatic representations on the island that function as a “de facto” embassy.
However, of the founding countries of the European Economic Area, Portugal is currently the only one without an official representation in Taiwan.
A position not unrelated to the good economic and political relations between the Portuguese State and the People’s Republic of China. In practice, this forces any Taiwanese citizen in need of certifying documents required in Portugal to go to the closest Portuguese diplomatic representation on the island, the Consulate General in Macau.
A difficulty further compounded by the general movement restrictions by the pandemic over the past three years.
“Fortunately there is now the Schengen visa, and since Taiwanese residents have visa exemption in that area, any Taiwanese can visit Portugal without worry. But before for a Taiwanese to travel here was very difficult,” indicates the island’s representative in the country.
Last year, the total business volume between Portugal and Taiwan reached US$ 720 million, a much lower figure when compared to other European countries.
Austria, for example, a European country with a smaller population than Portugal, recently recorded a business value with Taiwan of more than 1.3 billion.
However, for Tsung, an important aspect of improving economic relations would have to involve signing bilateral agreements between governments, and establishing a Portuguese economic center in Taiwan.
This would allow business partnerships to be developed in areas that the island dominates, such as semiconductors, bicycle manufacturing, technology to support sustainable energy or sportswear.
“Most Taiwanese companies are quite dynamic SMEs without agreements. These companies tend to go to countries seen as more receptive,” he points out.
“For example, we have signed about 368 bilateral agreements with the United States. This way, a Taiwanese businessman traveling there goes with confidence that if a problem happens there are resources to solve it.”
The community has also tried to increase cultural exchanges – there was recently a photography exhibit at the Orient Museum by Taiwanese photographer Chou Ching-Hui, and business with a delegation of seven Taiwanese startups that traveled to Lisbon to participate in the Web Summit.
However, for the Taiwanese representative, the best way to increase recognition between Taiwan and Portugal would be to increase tourism flows between the two.
With a population of about 24 million, Taiwan annually has almost 17 million of its residents traveling the world.
“Before the pandemic, only 7,000 Taiwanese visited Portugal per year. The Taiwanese don’t know Portugal well, but imagine we have a tourism office with tourism fairs in Taiwan to increase the market. It would be a great business, it’s easy and there’s nothing political about it,” Tsung points out.
“Recently, the airline EVA Air established a new direct route between Taiwan and Milan. Why? Because the representative offices worked together to establish it. Imagine if we had a direct air route between Taiwan and Lisbon?”
According to the representative, relations between Portugal and Taiwan can run in parallel with those in China.
“What this office is doing here is not political, we promote our tourism and culture. We have to have that willingness to work together and create a platform for businessmen from Taiwan or Portugal to easily settle. It’s not easy to escape politics, but Taiwan’s politics are very flexible.”