Taiwan has revised its laws and regulations concerning permanent residency and workers' rights to attract foreign talent and to provide greater security and stability for the foreigners who see Taiwan as their home.
Every year, tens of thousands of foreigners come to Taiwan to work. Statistics from the Ministry of the Interior show that by the end of 2002, Taiwan had more than 405,000 foreign residents. Beside blue-collar workers, students, and housewives, there were about 17,000 foreign residents who were white-collar workers. Among them were 6,000 teachers, 5,000 businesspeople, 3,400 engineers, 2,000 missionaries, and smaller numbers of lawyers, accountants, journalists, and doctors.
Upon completing their missions in Taiwan, most of these white-collar professionals leave, but some fall in love with the island and decide to stay. In many Western countries, foreigners who want to become residents are able to gain permanent residency rights as an alternative to citizenship. For foreigners who wanted to immigrate to Taiwan, however, permanent residency was not an option. Alien residents were required to leave, then reenter Taiwan once a year to renew their visas. And even after devoting decades of their time and energy to Taiwan, foreign residents had to leave after they retired.
It was not until 2000, when the Regulations Governing Visiting, Residence and Permanent Residence of Aliens was promulgated, that foreign residents were allowed to apply for permanent residency at their local police stations. To gain an Alien Permanent Resident Certificate (APRC), applicants must live in the country for at least 270 days a year for seven consecutive years and need to submit documents to prove that they are financially self-sufficient--a minimum monthly income of NT$31,680 (US$918), which is twice the amount of Taiwan's minimum wage. Or, applicants can provide proof that they have property or real estate worth more than NT$5 million (US$145,000). Applicants must also undergo a physical exam and prove that they do not have a criminal record in Taiwan or their country. The application fee is NT$10,000 (US$290).
Ted Knoy, who has taught technical writing in several local universities since 1989 and edits several Taiwan-based technical publications, became the first American in Taiwan to get an APRC in April 2000. Knoy obtained his APRC after having lived in Taiwan for seven years. To him, the APRC provides security and the knowledge that he can stay in the country, independent of anyone else--his employer or his wife. Foreign residents without permanent residency rights can be deported if they lose their jobs or their marriages end in death or divorce.
In May 2002, with the help of some legislators and private groups organized by Taiwan's foreign residents, the legislature passed revisions to the Immigration Law that significantly eased the requirements for foreigners and alien family members of ROC nationals to seek permanent residency here. Under the new amendments, foreigners who have legally spent at least 183 days per year in Taiwan for seven consecutive years, or during ten of 20 years; those who are married to an ROC citizen and have legally spent at least 183 days a year in Taiwan for five consecutive years, or in five or more years of the past ten years, are eligible for permanent residency. According to police statistics, the revisions will relieve some 2,800 long-term expatriates of the trouble of having to renew their visas to stay in the country. To retain their permanent-resident status, however, foreigners holding APRCs must spend at least 183 days per year in Taiwan.
Although case-by-case exceptions can be made for medical or educational reasons, some say the rule makes the new status not permanent but conditional. They believe that foreigners deserve the freedom to travel in and out of the country whenever they like after gaining permanent residency. Legislator Apollo Chen, who actively pushed for the revisions, points out that the relaxation is aimed at making the nation's immigration law more reasonable and humane.
The new amendment also requires the National Police Administration to form a special commission to screen applications from foreign experts in high technology or others who have made significant contributions to Taiwan. Although the legal framework for the special commission is still under construction and "high technology" and "significant contributions" are not defined in the amendment, several elderly foreigners who have made significant contributions to Taiwan over the past few decades have received their permanent-residency status from Minister of the Interior Yu Cheng-hsien. "Many of our respected foreign friends have not been able to obtain permanent residency under the previous rules," said Yu at the ceremony. "I am gratified that revisions to the Immigration Law in regard to that [situation] have been passed, thus allowing foreign residents who have made great contributions to Taiwan to obtain permanent residency."
Some of these foreigners who cannot meet the residency or financial requirements but have made significant contributions to Taiwanese society include Bjarne Gislefoss and his wife Alfhild Gislefoss in Nantou County, Joyce Millan in Changhua County, Doris Brougham in Taipei City, and Ted Skiles and his wife Beverly Skiles in Ilan. "This [permanent residency] is the most valuable gift that both me and my wife could receive in Taiwan," Bjarne Gislefoss said to the media upon receiving the certificate. The Gislefosses established the Puli Christian Hospital in Nantou County and have devoted nearly 50 years of their time and medical expertise to the local population. Doris Brougham, a Christian missionary from Seattle, who has dedicated herself to advancing the Taiwanese public's English proficiency since 1962 with her Studio Classroom magazine and radio and TV programs, also expresses her thanks for those who helped push through the process that enabled her to get permanent residency, and believes that permanent residency really serves as an encouragement to foreigners who see Taiwan as their home.
So far, hundreds of foreigners living in Taiwan have been issued permanent residency certificates. Statistics, however, have shown that while thousands of Southeast Asians become ROC citizens each year, the naturalization option appeals to few Westerners. One reason that puts off some male foreigners is the prospect of serving in Taiwan's armed forces. Every healthy Taiwanese male, including new immigrants, must do military or alternative civilian service, typically for 22 months. Others are unhappy with Taiwan's requirement that individuals applying for ROC nationality are required to renounce their citizenship of their native countries.
Dan Jacobson, a US citizen and APRC holderwho lives in Taichung, thinks that Taiwan's naturalization law is unfair. "The US allows Taiwanese citizens to be citizens of the US also, but Taiwan does not reciprocate," he says. "Taiwan demands that one give up other citizenships before becoming a citizen of Taiwan, but at the same time it allows its own citizens to add other countries' citizenships." Jacobson believes that Taiwan should think about whether it wants foreigners to be seen as an integral feature of life in Taiwan. He adds that if Taiwan wants to be a well-developed country, it should allow people with different ethnic backgrounds to become citizens.
Reforms to the permanent residency rules and associated laws are perhaps needed, and widening the eligibility for permanent residency is a step in the right direction. But when more foreigners get permanent residency rights, there will be certain long-term issues that need to be tackled. For example, although foreigners--permanent residents or temporary workers--pay taxes and can join Taiwan's national health insurance system, many other welfare services and political rights are available only to ROC citizens. Ted Knoy points out that some places, such as some EU member states or Japanese municipalities, allow foreign permanent residents to vote in local elections. Permanent alien residents in Taiwan, however, do not have any political representation. Knoy suggests that while non-citizens in Taiwan do not have voting rights, there should be some kind of grievance committee with access to the Foreign Affairs Police or other government agencies.
Another problem Taiwan's permanent foreign residents wrestle with is their lack of rights concerning property and inheritance. Taiwan's reciprocity law stipulates that foreigners can only buy real estate in Taiwan if ROC citizens are allowed the same rights in the foreigner's home country (or home state in the US). This stipulation complicates life for many long -term foreign residents. The reciprocity requirement actually predates the concept of permanent residency rights for non -citizens, but was not amended. APRC holders would like to see the reciprocity rules scrapped, or at least not applied to permanent residents.
Some foreigners do not think permanent residency affects them on a day-to-day basis, and regard reforms in other areas as more important than the permanent-residency system. One of these areas is the right to work. In the past, foreigners who married Taiwanese spouses were not allowed to work unless they had government-issued permits to work in limited areas. Since January 2002, APRC-holders, and foreigners who hold Alien Resident Certificates because they are married to Taiwanese, have been able to apply for so-called "open work permits" under the Employment Services Act. These permits, along with the resident certificate, allow the holder to take up any job that does not require ROC citizenship.
Another issue of concern to some foreigners who marry local Taiwanese is the nationality of their children. In the past, ROC nationality was passed on by fathers only. Children with a local mother but a foreign father only had residency rights, which expired when they reach the age of 20. But since February 2000, the Legislative Yuan revised the law to bring about greater gender equality. The law ensures that children under the age of 20 who have a foreign father and a Taiwanese mother automatically become ROC citizens.
Compared with other countries, Taiwan's immigration and permanent residency regulations are neither especially strict nor particularly liberal. The government has its concerns about further opening immigration policies, but is also striving to make Taiwan more immigrant friendly. The current laws and regulations, although not to everyone's satisfaction, are certainly giving some of the island's foreign residents greater security and stability.