by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Solomon203/WikiCommons/CC

NEW MEASURES that will allow migrant workers to obtain permanent residency will take effect from today. 

This takes place at a time in which Taiwan faces labor shortages, particularly in the electronics manufacturing industry, due to the effects of COVID-19. As such, in passing this new residency plan, the Taiwanese government is answering a demand from industry. To this extent, one notes that the Tsai administration is fond of touting Taiwan’s increasing diversity due to immigration, particularly with regard to intermarriages between Taiwanese and migrants from Southeast Asia, as a way to distinguish Taiwan from China. 

Nevertheless, one notes that the new measures will maintain the control that employers have over migrant workers. On paper, the plan looks broad-ranging, in that 208,351 of 659,382 migrant workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand are eligible. However, in practice, the barriers for migrant workers to obtain residency remain steep. 

Under the new measures, blue-collar migrant workers can be classified as “intermediate skilled manpower” by their employers through an application if they work six years in their respective fields. It will take another five years of work in that field for them to qualify for residency, with “intermediate skilled manpower” status eligible for renewal every three years. 

This applies to all of the major categories of migrant workers in Taiwan, including those that work in factories, agriculture, forestry, as construction workers, as migrant fishermen, or as domestic workers that take care of the elderly. Factory workers, construction workers, agriculture, and migrant fishermen will need to make 33,000 NT per month and 500,000 NT per year to qualify for the “intermediate skilled manpower” category, while caregivers of the elderly need to make 24,000 NT per month if they work in homes and 29,000 NT per month if they work in institutions. 

The National Immigration Agency in Taipei. Photo credit: Solomon203/WikiCommons/CC

The Executive Yuan will also loosen current restrictions on university graduates that have graduated from Taiwanese universities, with graduates classified as “intermediate skilled manpower” if they have an associate’s degree from a Taiwanese university and make salaries of at least 30,000 NT per month for their first job after graduating, allowing for immediate classification as “intermediate skilled manpower”. They, too, will be able to apply for permanent residency in Taiwan after five years. 

Nevertheless, eligibility for the new measures will remain out of reach for all but a few migrant workers. Many migrant workers, particularly in the field of domestic care for the elderly, do not even make 20,000 NT per month. To this extent, one notes that the residency plan requires migrant workers to work in Taiwan for eleven years before they are able to qualify for residency. As employers have the power to decide whether or not to grant workers “intermediate skilled manpower” status, this also increases the power that employers have over the migrant workers that they employ, if migrant workers are hoping to qualify for residency. This also compares to how white-collar migrant workers currently only need to work for five years in Taiwan to meet requirements for permanent residency. 

The Tsai administration already maintains tight controls over the ability of migrant workers to transfer employment statuses, currently requiring that this take place through government agencies. This seems to be with the view that migrant workers working in domestic care are prone to trying to change employment status to factory work, because they view the work as having higher pay. 

The current system for migrant worker employment largely does not allow for migrant workers to bring families over to Taiwan, instead requiring them to leave their families behind, and not allowing them any permanent way to stay in Taiwan. Particularly given the rising number of intermarriages, this has left migrants in dire straits in the event of divorces, with migrant mothers separated from their children in Taiwan. 

To this extent, a recent report from the Control Yuan has sought to draw attention to abuses facing pregnant women, who are liable to have their contracts suddenly terminated by their employer in order to avoid dealing with the pregnancy. Although pregnancy tests for migrant workers were removed in 2015 and laws were passed forbidding employers from firing migrant workers for pregnancies, 66.1% of pregnant migrant workers had their contracts terminated in 2021, an increase from 40% in 2018. While hotlines exist for migrant workers to report such issues, they are infrequently used. With Taiwan seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases, as with previous outbreaks, there are reports of restrictions placed on migrant workers’ freedom of movement and not being allowed to leave their dormitories. 

The prevalent mistreatment of pregnant migrant workers in Taiwan, then, points to the larger structural issues facing migrant workers in Taiwan. Ultimately, it may be that the new residency plan carries on these issues, rather than addresses them. 

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