by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Jirka Matousek/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION has called on the government to take action regarding two undocumented siblings who are stateless, but have spent their entire lives in Taiwan.

The two children, aged fifteen and nine, are the children of a Taiwanese father and an undocumented Vietnamese migrant worker mother. While the two were born in Taiwan, they do not have household registration status, and lack citizenship.

This is due to their mother’s undocumented status, seeing as she left her previous employment and so has no official status in Taiwan. Likewise, while their mother was previously married to a man in Vietnam, she has no way to prove that the marriage no longer exists. Current laws require her to return to Vietnam with her children to prove that the marriage does not exist, as well as provide a DNA test proving that her Taiwanese partner is the parent of her two children, but this would prevent her from returning to Taiwan.

Immigration authorities are aware of the mother’s status and were previously set to deport her, but refrained on humanitarian grounds. The statuses of the two siblings came to light last year after the older sibling was unable to attend a junior high graduation trip due to her lack of citizenship, creating obstacles for group insurance for the trip.

Although children of undocumented workers are able to attend school in Taiwan, have welfare services, and can take high school and college entrance exams, they face challenges obtaining educational qualifications that require a national ID. Welfare services are withdrawn once they become adults, making them foreigners in a place where they may have spent their entire lives.

The plight facing children of undocumented migrant workers more broadly points to the lack of immigration policy in Taiwan, in which all but a small group of elite foreigners are prevented from obtaining citizenship. Migrant workers are only permitted to stay twelve years in Taiwan and while new residency plans have been rolled out, they are prohibitively difficult to qualify for, and place qualification in the hands of employers. There are few means for migrant workers to settle in Taiwan or start families here.

The Control Yuan, which houses the National Human Rights Commission. Photo credit: 勤岸/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Lack of immigration policy, then, creates issues for the children of undocumented migrant workers. Yet it is also the case that migrant mothers who have children in Taiwan to Taiwanese spouses are often left in a lurch when their husbands file for divorce. Such mothers have little means of recourse to separation from their children, with a significant roadblock being a four-year period in which migrant workers married to Taiwanese cannot apply to citizenship.

This takes place at a time that Taiwan has touted efforts to develop stronger political and economic ties with southeast Asian countries under the New Southbound Policy, not only for Taiwan’s labor supply, but to reduce reliance on the Chinese market. Either way, the New Southbound Policy has not resulted in a willingness to make structural changes to Taiwanese immigration policy.

There have been past incidents in which migrant mothers were deported along with their children, as occurred in a 2014 case in which a Vietnamese woman was deported with her five-year-old daughter after hiding in a tomb for over a year from authorities. The woman and her daughter were deported after a DNA test showed that her Taiwanese partner was not the father of the child.

The situation is widespread enough that there is reportedly an entire village in central Taiwan’s mountain range that consists entirely of migrant mothers and their children. Recent attempts by Control Yuan members to call attention to the lack of pathways for migrant workers to transfer employment to agricultural work–resulting in the use of undocumented migrant workers–also brought up this village.

With tens of thousands of foreign spouses in Taiwan that do not have Taiwanese citizenship, one generally suspects that this situation applies to more than two children. And, although authorities relented in this case due to public scrutiny and the National Human Rights Commission has become involved in the case, one expects that this only scratches the surface of a much larger issue. It is probable that more deportations occur without attracting public scrutiny in the slightest, which may be why media exposure proves necessary for this issue.

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