Last summer I decided to move across the world.
I had been studying Chinese for a few years, and wanted to keep learning. I wanted to meet new people, see more of Asia and write as much as I could. Last year I moved my Chinese study abroad to Shanghai—but I was looking for new adventures. So what better place than Taiwan, with its rich cultural history, current political intrigue and beautiful mountains to continue what I started?
I enrolled in classes at a local university in Taichung (臺中) with the hope of eventually finding full-time work after class ended.
Once I shared my plans fellow journalists, educators, friends and strangers online pulled their strings of connection from Taiwan across the ocean into my small apartment in Philadelphia, and I was left to tie up the knots.
I arrived expectant, ready to become the writer I wanted to be, and enough time on my passport to last me until the new year.
I quickly learned what would be my seemingly never-ending struggle with Taiwan; my love for everything this country has to offer, but its obvious distrust for foreigners like me.
Inside the newsrooms I visited, over the phone and between two cups of coffee, my ideas and drive and willingness to work were well received. I connected with my interviewers, and some I even consider to be friends now. I left those meetings feeling empowered, thinking, “This time it’ll work out.”
But one uninterested company turned into a few, unanswered emails started to stack up and meetings went unscheduled.
And I’ve figured out why.
Caveats for Foreigners in Taiwan
For foreigners interested in Taiwan for work experience, to learn Chinese or simply live and work in Asia, there are a few caveats.
Just a few weeks ago, a joint legislative committee reviewed legislation that may improve the lives of foreign long-time residents of Taiwan, many of whom have already obtained permanent residence.
The proposed legislation is called the Act for the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professional Talent, but there are still many outstanding questions about the implementation and specifications of the new law.
Some of what we know: the law would help foreign workers extend their work or resident visas from three years to five, grant an “Employment Gold Card” for foreigners looking to receive work permits and visas, tax cuts for the already wealthy who come to Taiwan for business and eligibility for a pension system. To read all of the new proposed legislation in English, read more here.
For legal consultant Michael Fahey with Winkler Partners in Taipei, this is a big step in the right direction.
“The current law’s intention is to resolve issues that have been bothering foreigners like myself who have been living in Taiwan for a long time,” Fahey said.
However, Fahey continued, “the key issue for somebody like you…is making it easier to get work permits. And this law is not about that.”
But there actually are some ways to get around this stipulation, if you know what to do, Fahey said. The Consultation Mechanism provides a way for young professionals with a bachelors degree, but lacking two years of work experience, to be hired by a Taiwanese company “in order to assist companies in retaining professional and technical employees in response to the changes in the industry environment,” the Employment Service Act states.
To apply, the basic requirements include a bachelor’s degree, a minimum revenue base for the employer, the job must be a technical or skilled worker job and a minimum salary of NT $47,971. Fahey has provided a detailed explanation of this via Winkler Partners.
But this mechanism is widely unknown and untrusted, as was the case in my own job hunting experience.
“It is definitely the case that for your average HR department, even ones with a little experience with foreigners, they don’t really understand the rules, they routinely get things wrong and the Consultation Mechanism sounds complicated,” he said.
But the approval rate is over 94%, according to Winkler Partners. And there is a clear demand from foreigners interested in living in Taiwan, Fahey said.
Forward Taiwan, an organization dedicated to these issues, has been slowly chipping away at lawmakers on these issues for years. This debate of work permit leniency and an even larger issue for permanent residents—dual nationality—are its major concerns.
The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has shown a strong interest in immigration policy changes, including the New Southbound Policy and the Plan for Retention of Talent in Taiwan.
“There are both people that are concerned and opposed to some of these things, but in general most of the legislators who have thought about these issues…are generally pretty positive about trying to make Taiwan a better place for the international community to live,” he said.
Brain Drain and Super-aged Society
But the attitude toward recruiting young foreign talent is, why recruit foreign talent when Taiwanese graduates are already out of work?
The answer: Taiwan’s brain drain is a serious problem. Roughly 700,000 Taiwanese in a 23 million population worked overseas in 2015, with no major changes since now to its stance on foreign recruitment.
And what’s more: by 2026, Taiwan will have transitioned into a super-aged society—meaning 20% of the population is 65 years or older. This elderly population will rely even more on the decreasing workforce to support its socialized medicine.
And the population isn’t expected to increase naturally, as birth rates and marriages slow because young people are afraid to get married without well paying, stable work. The National Development Corporation predicts Taiwan’s population will start to shrink in 2021, at the earliest.
But as Fahey put it, lowering standards like a minimum salary or experience requirement for these foreigners is the “fundamental red line no one is willing to cross.”
Optimistically, Fahey said, the Act for Recruitment and the Employment of Foreign Talent will be rolled out as early as the end of next month.
I’ll be watching the world stage to see what’s next for Taiwan; how it responds to its own shortcomings, and its own strengths in coming years.
If you or someone you know has any questions regarding the your visa, permit or legal status in Taiwan, visit the Workforce Development Agency for more information.
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