Taiwan to expand citizenship to Asean

Taiwan to expand citizenship to Asean

Taiwan plans to offer citizenship to students and skilled workers from Southeast Asian nations to fight brain drain and the declining working-age population. (Photo by Peerawat Jariyasombat)
Taiwan plans to offer citizenship to students and skilled workers from Southeast Asian nations to fight brain drain and the declining working-age population. (Photo by Peerawat Jariyasombat)

Taiwan, battling a severe brain drain to the mainland, plans to offer citizenship to students and skilled workers from Southeast Asian nations under proposed legislation that will head to the self-ruled island’s lawmakers for review and a vote next month.

The economic immigration bill is Taipei’s response to Beijing’s initiatives that have lured talent away from Taiwan, which China’s leadership sees as a wayward province to be brought back into the fold -- if necessary, by force.

It would target Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and other Asean member countries. If approved, the bill could take effect early next year.

Besides allowing Taipei to address the problem of a growing number of Taiwanese professionals surrendering to the lure of mainland jobs and other incentives, the bill is seen as a way for Taiwan to tackle the dilemma of a declining working-age population, officials and analysts said.

Taiwan’s industries, especially the export-led electronic sector, are in need of some 218,000 workers, according to government statistics. If the island’s population were to decline by 2021 as expected, the number of people fit to work would diminish further.

“By 2026, 20% of the population will be over 65 years old, and in the following year, there will be an insufficient working-age population,” said National Development Council Minister Chen Mei-ling.

“If the current trend continues, by 2065, the population of Taiwan will fall to between 16 million and 18.8 million from 23.57 million in 2018.”

These statistics underscore why the council looks to the economic immigration bill to recruit foreign professionals and make Taiwan more immigrant-friendly, Mr Chen said.

Under the bill, people with special talents will be able to apply for permanent residency after working in Taiwan for three years; foreign professionals will be able to do the same after working on the island for five years, and mid-level technicians or skilled workers after seven years.

Foreign students who graduate and work in Taiwan for five to seven years will be eligible to apply too, the commission said. The new law also will apply to skilled foreign workers who have worked in Taiwan for seven years.

Although Asean nations are a priority market, the laws also are open to professionals and students from countries outside the association.

Generally, the proposed bill has been well-received by local industrial leaders, who consider it a way to refill the talent pool slowly drained by the mainland’s initiatives.

But critics complained about a rule change embedded in the new bill that no longer requires prospective new Taiwan citizens to invest either in government bonds or a for-profit enterprise to spur local job creation.

The rule was seen as too rigorous, so it was removed.

“There is a drawback [in] that the government takes out the investment immigrant part, which could have helped increase foreign investments in Taiwan,” said Tsai Lien-sheng, secretary general of the National Federation of Industries.

“The biggest problem in Taiwan is not just [its shrinking] talent pool, but also stagnant investments,” he said.

Mr Tsai said Taiwan’s leaders need to learn from Singapore and the US, which allow investors to acquire citizenship if they meet their investment immigration requirements.

In the US, for instance, the EB-5 investor visa programme offers green cards to potential new citizens who put at least US$500,000 (16 million baht) in US businesses in high-unemployment or rural areas that have been found to generate at least 10 jobs per investor.

The bill comes as Taiwan’s relations with mainland China have turned sour after President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle under which Taiwan is cast as part of China.

Beijing has suspended official talks and exchanges with Taiwan to force Ms Tsai to accept the principle.

Lee Ming-chang, deputy principal of the Lashio Holy Light Chinese Language School in Myanmar, told the Central News Agency that mainland China’s sweeteners to Taiwanese professionals and companies are muddling Taiwan’s ability to recruit talent.

Analysts said Taiwan already lags Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan in rounding up foreign professionals since those nations use lucrative incentives to retain offshore talent. They also said it might be difficult for Taiwan to hang on to its professionals given the relatively low pay structure in Taiwan.

“The bill is well-intended, but employers might not want to raise the salaries to keep those workers,” said Cheng Chih-yu, a professor with the Labour Research Institute at National Chengchi University.

Cheng noted that the average salary for foreign workers -- who are the most in-demand group in various industries in Taiwan -- amounts to slightly more than NT$30,000 (31,000 baht). Under the government plan, the payment for skilful workers would be between NT$32,000 and NT$41,393.

Chayaphon Mulasar, a Thai worker for a Taiwanese electronic company based in Taoyuan, said he is willing to do what is necessary to get a permanent residency in Taiwan.

“But according to the regulations, if I want to apply, I need to start all over again, meaning I have to deduct the six years I have worked in Taiwan since 2012, which is unfair,” he said.



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