by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Mk2010/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS Joseph Wu recently suggested that Taiwan might extend work visas and allow for permanent residency for migrant workers from the Philippines.
As Wu floated the idea in public comments in an interview with Manila’s Philippine Star, it is unclear how much backing this idea has. Wu could have raised the comments publicly as a trial balloon, to see as to the popularity of the idea. It is also possible that Wu floated the comments as a way to pressure other sections of government that may be more hesitant on the idea, such as the Ministry of Labor or the National Immigration Agency.
Nevertheless, Wu stated that Taiwan was still waiting for visa reciprocality from the Philippines, suggesting that Taiwanese could be granted visa-free travel. Though Taiwan currently has a visa-free program for the Philippines, this will end next month, and Taiwan is considering whether to extend this or not.
Either way, Wu’s comments can be situated alongside other events which may indicate strengthening relations between Taiwan and the Philippines. Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo raised concern over peace in the Taiwan Straits in an April meeting with Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang, though stressing that the Philippines still remains committed to its One China Policy.
This takes place in a similar timeframe to efforts to strengthen economic ties between Taiwan and the Philippines. The head of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority visited Taiwan in May to pitch investment opportunities with the 422 duty-free zones in the Philippines, which were touted as an alternative to China at a time when countries have sought to de-risk from Chinese investment. In the same month, the Philippines’ Board of Investment stated that it was in talks with eight Taiwanese tech companies about investment. Though it did not specify which companies these were, they are primarily manufacturers of electronics and industrial machinery.
Likewise, one has also seen a number of incidents involving cross-border law enforcement cooperation between Taiwan and the Philippines. This includes the arrest of wanted criminals involved in organized crime, as well as the rescue of 2,700 individuals from Taiwan and other countries that were being held as part of a cybercrime ring, with such individuals coerced into participation in cybercrime.
There are currently 154,000 Filipinos in Taiwan, which makes up around 21% of all migrant workers. Industries in Taiwan dependent on migrant labor such as in electronics manufacturing or farming continue to face labor shortages, as a result of which increasing the number of workers from the Philippines might be attractive to industry.
Offering permanent residency to workers from the Philippines would be a surprising move for Taiwan when Taiwan has historically been hesitant to grant permanent residency status to migrant workers. Migrant workers historically have not been allowed to stay in Taiwan past twelve years, with few options for gaining residency status or naturalizing short of marrying Taiwanese nationals.
Although a permanent residency plan was introduced in May of last year, to qualify for the “intermediate skilled manpower” status for residency requires one to first work for six years to be approved by employers for this status, following which one needs to work a further five years. To qualify for the “intermediate skilled manpower” status is up to the discretion of employers and, in this way, the residency plan strengthens the power that employers already have over workers.
It is unclear what a permanent residency plan for Filipino workers would consist of. But, as the Philippines is a labor-exporting country, it is possible that Wu hopes to sweeten the deal for security cooperation. As such, offering permanent residency to Filipinos may not merely be with the labor needs of industry in mind.
One notes that the Philippines recently reached a deal to grant the US expanded access to military bases in the north Philippines close to Taiwan. This takes place as part of moves by the Marcos presidency which have drawn the Philippines closer to the US in recent times. Unsurprisingly, then, in the same interview, Wu suggested that Taiwan would also be interested in security cooperation with the Philippines in areas such as disaster relief or with regard to coast guard cooperation. In this way, labor and residency policy for Filipino migrant workers dovetails with security concerns for Taiwan.