by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Cheng-en Cheng/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 2.0

THE LEGISLATURE SEEMS to be set to debate naturalization rights going forward. The potential outcome will likely influence naturalization rights for Chinese spouses and foreigners in Taiwan.

In particular, the Executive Yuan has approved draft amendments that will lower the time for “foreign high-level professionals” applying for naturalization to three consecutive years of residency in Taiwan. Residency is defined as being present in Taiwan for 183 days a year.

At the same time, it is a question who would be defined as a “foreign high-level professional.” That the government has suggested that lowering the period required for residency to three years could assist with efforts to naturalize basketball players suggests that the scope of the naturalization laws will be relatively narrow. All but a few individuals will be allowed to qualify as a “foreign high-level.”

Indeed, this reflects the historical tendency in Taiwan. There is no real naturalization regime to speak of Taiwan, with foreigners required to give up their original citizenship if they intend to naturalize–something that could potentially leave them stateless if they are unable to acquire ROC citizenship.

While some individuals have been granted citizenship, they are often individuals who have won awards on the world stage, priests who have spent decades in Taiwan, and other such individuals. To this extent, while the government has liked to tout the Gold Card program as having been a spectacular success in attracting foreign talent to Taiwan, this has excluded many individuals because of the limited scope of what the government will accept as required documentation to prove suitability for the program. Otherwise, there have been difficulties meeting the income requirements for maintaining Gold Card status.

In the meantime, white-collar foreigners can stay in Taiwan long-term through acquiring an Alien Permanent Residency Certificate. Yet this excludes blue-collar foreign workers, more commonly referred to as migrant workers. Migrant workers are required to leave Taiwan after 12 years.

And though new measures have been introduced to allow migrant workers classified as “intermediate skilled manpower” to stay as permanent residents, these remain restrictive. Who qualifies to be classified as “intermediate skilled manpower” is contingent on the decision of employers, increasing the power that employers have over migrant workers.

Photo credit: Cheng-en Cheng/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 2.0

Though on paper the rules may look wide-ranging, with 208,351 of 659,382 migrant workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand eligible, the barriers remain steep. First workers would have to work six years in their respective fields, then work another five years to qualify, and then the “intermediate skilled manpower” status would need to be renewed every three years. One sees similar, then, in that measures which supposedly allow for residency, in fact, are still highly limited, and restrictive in nature.

In the same timeframe, there has been pushback against efforts by the KMT to lower the naturalization period for Chinese spouses. The new rules proposed by the KMT would lower the period of marriage required for Chinese nationals to four years.

There has been pushback against the idea, including from the DPP, which cited security concerns. Likewise, a petition from a Taichung doctor suggested the dangers of an influx of Chinese which could overwhelm the National Health Insurance (NHI) system. The doctor in question, Tu Cheng-che, has also sought to call attention to the fact that foreigners are not currently allowed to naturalize to Taiwanese citizenship without giving up their original citizenship, criticizing this as unfair.

Mobilizing the fear of the NHI going bankrupt would be a way to pushback against the idea. But, more broadly, one has observed rising hostility in past years from the Taiwanese public and pan-Green politicians against the idea of allowing Hongkongers to obtain residency in Taiwan more easily. There is, in fact, rising pushback against outsiders in Taiwanese society, which is particularly a sensitive matter when it comes to Chinese nationals–or Hongkongers, who in this framing are thought of having become no different than Chinese nationals after the passage of the National Security Law in Hong Kong. This could perhaps, too, be observed in the pushback against the notion of allowing for Indian migrant workers to enter Taiwan.

To this extent, there is a relative lack of attention to cases in which politically sensitive Chinese individuals sought to renounce their nationality as a way to obtain Taiwanese citizenship but were detained after returning to China to do so. One prominent case in point is that of Fucha, the pen name of the editor-in-chief of Gusa Books, who has been detained in China for close to a year now after returning to China to visit family and renounce his Chinese citizenship. Fucha obtained Taiwanese nationality by marriage to a Taiwanese person.

Very probably both issues–that of naturalization for white-collar foreigners or high-level professionals and that of obtaining nationality for Chinese spouses will become yoked together. It will not be surprising if the KMT champions the latter in opposition to the former, while the DPP does the opposite. This would prove similar to the dynamic evidenced during the elections, in which the DPP pushed for the idea of Indian migrant workers being allowed to come to Taiwan and attacked the KMT suggesting that Chinese students should be allowed to take up jobs in Taiwan, while the KMT did the opposite in focusing fire on the issue of Indian migrant workers coming to Taiwan.

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