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.
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.