The Wrong White Collars: Why Taiwan Won’t Keep Its Foreign Talent


There are many reasons why someone would want to come to Taiwan, the lifestyle, culture, food and whatever cliché you want to throw around as well. There are a myriad of them. But what is discussed between expats, but is rarely addressed by the government, are the reasons why foreign talents, and foreigners in general, tend to leave Taiwan after a few years at best. One of the biggest problems is the backwards immigration laws and requirements attached to gaining citizenship. While many criticize Taiwan for offering low wage ceilings for foreign experts and creating a blanket strategy towards cultivating foreign talents, I think it is obvious that one of the main reasons why foreigners tend to leave is because they are kept at an arms length from being a part of society.

1. The Bureaucratic Nightmare 

Coming to Taiwan and having the legal status to work shouldn’t be as hard or complicated as it is. Firstly, coming from your home country will make the process somewhat easier, as you will need to have your degree authenticated by a local Taipei Representative office. If you’ve read my past blog on how I applied for a scholarship and residency visa, then you will also know you first need to have your degree authenticated by your home countries’ department for foreign affairs before it can be authenticated by the representative office.

However, let’s talk about when you arrive in Taiwan. Depending on your job, you might also be required to provide extra documents. For example, new legislation was brought in that requires foreigners working in cram schools to have background checks from their country of origin. I think this legislation was long overdue and makes sense for anyone working with children.

However, just like the process for applying for the APRC (Alien Permanent Residency Certificate), the background check can be somewhat of a hassle. Just like your degree, you need to have your background check authenticated by your department for foreign affairs and then by your county of origin’s Taipei Representative office.

Let’s take Ireland as an example. It takes 4 weeks to have a police vetting application completed, 1 day to have the document authenticated by the Irish Department for Foreign Affairs and 7 working days to be further authenticated by the Taipei Representative Office in Dublin, with an added 2-3 days if you decide to have it posted. So, the turnover rate in Ireland for such a document, as required by the Taiwanese Ministry for Foreign Affairs is roughly 5-6 weeks, and that doesn’t include the time it would take to have posted to Taiwan from Ireland if you have someone in Ireland do it for you.

As much as I agree with the new policy of requiring new foreign teachers to have background checks, the system that is enacted by the MOFA is very inefficient. One major problem is that not all countries have a Taipei Representative office, and many countries that do, only have it in one city. If someone from Lithuania wanted to apply for a scholarship or have their documents authenticated, they would have to send their documents to Latvia, the nearest office that will service Lithuania.

Herein lies the problem for many foreigners who want to stay in Taiwan, but are subject to overly complex requirements. Thankfully the APRC isn’t overly complicated, but then again, according to a lot of my friends who have them, your application and what is required of you is solely down to the person who is looking at your application. Some will let you walk on by and be on your merry way, and others will make the process as tedious as possible.

You also need to worry about your own employers and if they have kept up with your taxes and ARC. For an APRC you need to have worked in Taiwan continuously for 5-years and been in Taiwan for at least 183 days out of every year, without taking a period of more than 3 months outside of Taiwan at one time. A friend of mine was knocked back 4 years on his APRC application because his boss forgot to put through his documents for his ARC and nothing could be done. He had to take the whole process again.

2. Family Matters 

So after all that nonsense, you finally move here, but you brought your family with you to Taiwan. It will take you all 6 months, despite being a foreign professional, to obtain national healthcare insurance. Most of the international schools are extremely expensive and the worst part is your children, even if they have lived in Taiwan from 1-18 or were born here (to foreign parents), will not be given any legal right to live in Taiwan once they turn 18. Their only options to stay in Taiwan will be if they marry someone local, or if they apply for a degree course or language learning course and remain on a student visa.

There was a famous case of a German engineer, whose children were slowly being forced to leave Taiwan because of draconian laws. Despite living in Taiwan since 1998 and his children being born and raised here, they were forced by Taiwanese law to leave Taiwan. They were forced to leave a country they grew up in and return to the country of their parents.

Such policies and laws uphold a sense of ‘ethnic nationalism’ in the sense that citizenship is granted based upon a common ancestry and not ‘civic nationalism’ in which citizenship is granted to anyone born in the community. Despite many foreigners contributing to Taiwanese society, it is very unlikely that many will be given citizenship. With that said, having an APRC is still a great alternative, but it restricts foreigners in many ways. Not only can you not vote or take part in politics in Taiwan, you are still very much a ‘foreigner’ with an APRC. It does give a lot of freedom in terms of taking any job you want without restrictions and being able to freely move between jobs and employers, but it is still not a substitute for being able to vote in a country that you contribute towards. And if you leave Taiwan for an extended period of time, it will be revoked.

It is easy to see why so many foreigners feel frustrated in Taiwan. If living here for most of their lives and contributing not only to the economy, but also contributing by raising a family and integrating isn’t enough, what is? Well, that is the next reason why foreigners might want to leave Taiwan

3. Priest, nuns and auto-mobiles.

Recently, new laws came were passed to alleviate the issue of the application process for citizenship. Currently, the process for obtaining Taiwanese citizenship is nothing short of a “are you serious?“. If someone with an APRC wants to become a Taiwanese citizen, they first have to give up their country of origin’s citizenship and then apply for Taiwan citizenship. In essence, you make yourself stateless to simply only apply for Taiwanese citizenship. If your application is denied, you could potentially becoming stateless and end up running around an airport shouting ‘krakozhia!’ like Tom Hanks in The Terminal.

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Even recent laws that came in that allow top notch researchers, investors or people who have contributed to Taiwan society to apply for Taiwanese citizenship without giving up their country of origin’s are odd.

I have heard of researchers who have spent considerable time in Taipei and when they applied for citizenship, they were denied. None of them received a reason why their application were turned down and that was that. Despite meeting the criteria for citizenship under current regulations none had gotten it.

Instead, priests and nuns seem to be getting all the citizenships with this new law. It seems that there was some confusion over what ‘white collar’ meant. I didn’t make that joke up, it has been flying around a lot.

In January 2017, an elderly American Catholic Priest was granted citizenship

On July 5th 2017, an 81-year-old Catholic priest from Italy was given citizenship.

On August 2nd 2017, a 71-year-old Jesuit Priest from France was given citizenship.

On August 4th 2017, a 59-year-old Filipino Nun was granted citizenship.

And then were was Father Pierre Mertens from Belgian. He has been working in Taiwan for 65 years and was given citizenship at the age of 92.

I do not want to take away anything that these people have done in Taiwan. They have all contributed to society in many ways. From working with children with special needs to setting up foundations, these people have contributed to Taiwanese society and they should be respected for it.

My issue is that, it shouldn’t take someone like Father Pierre Mertens 65 years to gain citizenship and it shouldn’t take becoming a priest or nun in Taiwan to gain citizenship. Foreigners contribute to Taiwan differently and the current laws passed by the Legislative Yuan are perhaps a step forward, but as far as I can see and have heard, only priests and nuns have gotten their citizenship that way. While I might sound apprehensive of priests and nuns gaining citizenship, there are enough South-East Asian carers who commit their lives to helping those in need who are not granted citizenship and should be for their contribution to Taiwanese society.

The government, whilst enacting a policy of trying to bring foreign talents to Taiwan, forget to showcase what Taiwan offers the best. Money is an important factor for why foreign professionals will come to Taiwan, but it isn’t what will keep them here. The culture, lifestyle and people of Taiwan will. I, like many foreigners love Taiwan for the easiness of life, the drunken KTV nights, quiet beers in 7-Eleven because the bars are to expensive, hiking on some of the most people places on Earth and enjoying life here.

4. Closing Thoughts

If the government really wants foreigners to stay and if they want to attract them in the first place, then they should be spearheading recruitment to truly showcase that Taiwan is the number one destination for expats in the world. The issue then, is not simply attracting expats, it is making expats immigrants who will stay here and contribute to society, but who will want to do that if they can’t be granted citizenship? An APRC is a good alternative to citizenship, but I for one feel that if I contribute to a society, I want to at least be able to vote and be fully apart of its civil society.

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22 thoughts on “The Wrong White Collars: Why Taiwan Won’t Keep Its Foreign Talent

  1. I am sorry to hear about the policy toward foreign residents. Due to the hostile posturing from Chinese government, we cannot guarantee all the rights to foreigners especially the right to vote. After all, most of foreign residents are from communist China. The current ROC system was from China, though locals were trying very hard to fight for equal rights, some rules are difficult to change even to Taiwanese. Maybe you can share your experience with certain organization, so they can help you in some degree.


  2. “I, like many foreigners love Taiwan for the easiness of life”

    This sentiment, is I believe what attracts most foreigners to Taiwan and elsewhere in SE/E Asia and why many of them are not looked upon favorably by locals.

    Most foreigners choosing to live long term in TW and surrounding region, do so out of economic necessity as they would not be able to afford the same lifestyle nor have the same buying power in their home country.

    Many of these economic migrants care nothing for the language, people nor culture instead choosing to live in their ‘expat’ bubble ‘living the easy life’ and primarily interacting with others of their kind. A lot of them having been in TW for decades never bothering to learn the language instead finding it easier to marry a local to help deal with daily affairs.

    When you get a sizable number of foreigners fitting this description, it naturally creates resentment among the local populace and further strengthens the us vs them mentality. This of course is further reinforced by the fact that western expats have a well deserved reputation for poor behavior in SE/E Asia (eg, Thailand, Japan, China, etc).


    1. A heavier proportion of long-term foreigners do speak Chinese. And as for your part on only being able to afford the lifestyle one wants in TW, that is also not true. In fact, there are many things not affordable for foreign nationals for both necessity and lifestyle in TW than what I can get in my own country


  3. Good post. I don’t have children, but if I did, their naturalization would be the most important issue for me, not gaining the vote through citizenship. The civic participation aspect doesn’t have to be realized through gaining the vote, as there are various other civic forums where some degree of participation by foreigners could be allowed.

    There are other things that probably contribute to the decision to leave Taiwan aside from the various inanities of the work culture, the absence of any possibility for career progression, the bureaucratic nightmares and the ethnic nationalism. Traffic density and the hazards of driving are an obvious one, but there are other smaller and more subtle things having to do with family structure and time management. The opening and closing times of banks and government offices is far from convenient if you are single and working, or if your wife/girlfriend is working too. The same is true for the garbage collection service – the odd practice of standing around on the street in the mid afternoon or eight o’clock in the evening to meet the collection truck is well, odd and not practical for probably 95% of working people unless they are lucky enough to have a neighbour who can help out. The fact that outdoor swimming pools either close in September for the “winter” (when it’s still 20+degrees C outside) or open from 6.00 am – 8.30 am is another oddity. Together all these little oddities add up to the impression that such things are run by and for the benefit and convenience of the elderly, with no thought whatsoever given to those who do not have elderly yet still mobile parents living with them.

    You might also point to the narrowness of the education culture, and the fact that few people seem to keep books at home beyond school textbooks or the occasional novel. Intellectual interests outside of work tend to be non-existent, or a privilege for a few time rich doctors and the like. The almost universal obsession with food to the near complete exclusion and ignorance of nutritional characteristics can also be off-putting at times.

    Another thing I think worthy of note is the weird combination of official obfuscation and “under-the-table” helpfulness that can often be encountered. I’ll give two examples. The first one I can’t go into details with but… I have found senior engineers at the Water Resources Bureau to be frankly, quite shockingly helpful and friendly in terms of answering questions and providing information – but only in an informal, off-the-record capacity. Trying to get things done and arrange visits to certain areas “officially” is next to impossible, but they are usually happy to urge you to just get it done in an “under the table” fashion. Second example was just this morning – at my local swimming pool I asked if I could have permission to photograph the fighter jets coming in to land from the tower of the children’s water slide (the tower is about a hundred feet up from the road below and the jets come in to land about thirty feet away from the tower’s fence). This resulted in the usual conference call of all the staff present without anyone wanting to give me a clear answer one way or the other, until one of the women whispered to me to just sneak my DSLR in past the front desk in my holdall and do it anyway. In this kind of environment, trying to get anything done “officially” is going to result in unreasonable frustration again and again and again, and I think that must be a major barrier to anyone with a high achievement drive and ingrained sense of doing things “properly” by following official protocol. If you want to achieve something in Taiwan, it may be that you have to be a bit of a fox at times.

    Having said all of that, none of these things have ever been sufficient to make me want to leave. There’s so much here that is fascinating and so much fun and intellectual stimulation to be had if only you are prepared to put the time into doing the research.


  4. And then were was Father Pierre Mertens from Belgian. He has been working in Taiwan for 65 years and was given citizenship at the age of 92.

    i know some people who think a few years in taiwan teaching english is equal to the work the father has done for taiwan.


    1. Like I said, his work has had an impact, he is well deserving, no debate. My point is that if that’s the only way to get a citizenship then something is wrong. Great man I doubt. Deserves all the praise.


  5. It is surely a coincidence that the priests and nuns do not have any offspring… Racial issues cannot possibly play a role in the government’s opaque decision making process.


  6. On the one side there is a schizophrenic problem with Taiwan. While part of the government tries to invite foreigners to come and work, a huge part of its bureaucrats seem not to like the idea. Then there is the growing dislike of foreigners. I came here in 2006 for the first time and the difference feels strong. Then there is the huge doubt of what constitutes a good immigrant. As the attitude of Taiwanese is changing, also the quality of people coming over is worsening. Perhaps there is the fear that Taiwan may become like other places that by now are more similar to zoos than to safe, civilized cities and countries. Even if it wasn’t so, bureaucracy deters and frustrates enterprise. Even getting a driving license is somewhat of an humiliating processm. Then there is living costs vs wages and working times. All this also if one doesn’t want to vote, which may be unnecessary or also inappropriate if one doesn’t understand the dynamics of the place. All this aside, long working hours, with no respect for rest time, phone calls and meetings (most of which useless) at very low wages with a very high living cost are surely not conducive to incentivize bright minds to come to Taiwan and stay. That is perhaps, why brilliant minds go elsewhere in the first place, with the vacuum being filled by others. Overall, while i acknowledge most of the things above, it’s also true that opening the country as the West did is not going to make things any better if you can’t pick the right type of immigrants. A complex issue for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, I worked in a creative field here and they want the talent but once they master what you show them they send you to the far corner so to speak, they are passively hostile to the idea of working with foreigners unless it is a job that has foreign interests at its core but even then its still at arms length.
      I get why it is like this in addition to the work politics that are self defeating to the tasks at hand and no one could seem to break out of it, basically for anything to get done you needed foreign teams to split off from the locals, as bad as that sounds that is the harsh reality.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I have a Taiwanese friend who wasn’t allowed to marry her husband in Taipei- he’s an Indian citizen. They had to go to India to get married legally, and they had to make two trips to Delhi. The red tape was horrible. Now it looks like, theyvare getting divorced after three years, sadly.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. one thing you forgot is that the relatives, despite being authorized to stay, are not authorized to work in Taiwan. means you can wife can cole tonyou butbshe will be a housewife whatever happens. that’s really stupid part of the law. they should have the right to apply for any job without having tonget another arc. so complicate for nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is indeed a good read. I am from the Philippines and I’ve been here in Taiwan for 3 years already. I also encounter the same situation in processing my student visa before and now, I am working on my working visa. It ain’t easy but it is my choice to stay and work here so I should bear with all these stuffs. Hopefully, my working visa will be approved. :) Actually, we just started our blog about Taiwan haha

    Liked by 1 person

  10. For non-teaching job, foreigners are not required to have a physical to get the ARC (no idea why). Also, I don’t think it’s all about citizenship or even long-term visas–there are many long-term expats (20+ years) in other countries who have no plan of obtaining citizenship in their host countries.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It’s a nice thought, but as you stated, Taiwan isn’t interested in diversity, and will always keep foreigners…foreign. Very sad, but I don’t ever see that changing, as much as I wish it would.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It all depends on how the government proceeds in how they want to continue to be in any competitive on a world market. Don’t see that happening without opening up a bit to the world.


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