Our family continues to receive congratulations following a change in the regulation covering the immigration status of foreign residents who grew up in Taiwan.
Several media outlets (Taipei Times, Focus Taiwan) speak of a ‘major move’ in immigration law because these young adults who came to Taiwan as children or infants, or who were born here, are no lo longer being asked to leave once they turn 20 but only once they turn 26.
It could be a good start but the final amendment to the regulation which has been announced on April 22, 2014 in the Executive Yuan Gazette offers no reason to celebrate.
I have described the overall legal status of foreign families in Taiwan in an earlier article.
This particular change now concerns foreign children who grew up in Taiwan and come of age – at age 20. Formerly these now adult children had to leave the country on their 20th birthday. Under the new regulation they are allowed to apply for a three year extension, possibly twice which would allow them to stay legally for another 6 years.
At first glance that looks like a step forward but there’s a huge problem in the fine print: The extension does not come with a work permit. In order to work they need to qualify as foreign white collar workers and the requirements there are quite stiff. This effectively puts them at a severe disadvantage in comparison to all their Taiwanese friends and class mates.
Instead of crunching gruesome details here are short stories of four people who I have watched closely since they came into this world – our four children.
Krystyna was born in Germany. She came to Taiwan together with us in February 1998, at age 6. Her first home in Taiwan was Tamsui, north of Taipei. She learned Chinese while playing with neighbors and then ‘on the job’ after she entered a public elementary school. When I took up a job down south we moved to Kaohsiung. Krystyna continued with public elementary and junior high schools down here.
She took private dance lessons and was pretty good but never was allowed to participate in local or national dance competitions due to the fact that she was a foreigner.
Anyway, in 2007 she was accepted into the Tainan School of Dance for Girls (senior high school). At age 16 she moved into a small apartment together with several classmates in Tainan and came home for the weekends.
She graduated in 2011 and then passed the entrance exam of National Taiwan University of Art (NTUA, 國立臺灣藝術大學), Department of Dance in Taipei.
As mentioned above, during her time at school as well as university she was not allowed to participate in national dance competitions, neither as an individual nor as part of her class. This actually applies to all foreigners also in areas outside of the arts. Several times she accompanied her class mates to contests but only supported behind the scenes without being allowed to appear on stage.
From age 20 she has been on her own ARC based on her university study. Through the university she also received a student work permit so she could take up part time jobs. Thanks to being able to work legally she could not only help pay her tuition and living expenses but also make connections in the art field, hosting shows, TV commercials etc. Her face is probably familiar to many residents of Taipei due to her stint as Sara in a commercial for the Taipei MRT.
Every single one of these short time jobs, which did not pay a lot of money, would have required an individual work permit. Without her work permit she could not have taken any of these jobs.
Krystyna will graduate this June and then has to immediately move out of the school dormitory. According to the current regulation – and probably also the upcoming amendment – she will instantly lose her ARC and work permit. This will make it impossible for her to earn a living on her own without breaking the law.
After having lived in Taiwan for 16 years, most of her life, she will now be a tourist unless she takes up another study or gets hired by a company who provides a working visa based on regulations for white collar workers.
These regulations, however, are very strict and narrow. Not every job and not every company qualifies for providing a working visa. For example, Krystyna could not take a part time job at local restaurants while she looks for a full time job.
Krystyna will graduate this June. She then has to move out of the school dormitory immediately and find an apartment. Based on existing regulations for foreign students she can apply for a six months extension of her student visa, keeping her student work permit. If by then she hasn’t found a full-time job which gives her an ARC and a work permit she will basically have the legal status of a tourist after having lived legally in Taiwan for 16 years, most of her life.
Normally students will have to leave the country then. However, because Krystyna grew up in Taiwan she now has the opportunity to apply for another extension which may give her time until she is 26. However, she would no longer have a work permit and could not just take any job. For example, she couldn’t just work in a restaurant or as a part-time English teacher.
The regulations for obtaining a work permit are very strict and narrow. Not every job and not every company qualifies. In addition, in her particular field of expertise, a career usually starts out with short stints and freelance work. Not an option for a foreigner without an open work permit.
Alexander was also born in Germany. He came to Taiwan when he was 3 years old. When Krystyna joined elementary school he joined kindergarten. Later he first attended the same elementary and junior high schools as his older sister and then a senior high school in Kaohsiung. Being interested in science he started a study of mathematics at a private university in the north.
He liked the study but not the atmosphere. He lamented the fact that most of his class mates are too content with (barely) making the grade, spending most of the time on computer games after getting the minimum points. Maybe that’s the way it is today. Maybe not. If so then it really sucks. I remember more stimulating experiences from my time in school and university.
Anyway, the fact that he would not be allowed to stay after study added to his worries and we decided that he go to Germany and get into the social system over there. We have friends and family who help but essentially he is on his own. He speaks German but has to improve it in order to communicate on an academic level in university. Other formalities come up. It takes time.
Alex situation actually is easy given the fact that we have friends who help. I know of far worse situation where twenty-year-olds who grew up here had to move away into precarious situations into ‘home countries’ less hospitable than Germany, countries they have never known.
Our other two children have something the first two don’t have – a Taiwan birth certificate:
Andi was born 1998 in Taipei when we were still living in Tamsui.
He is a different case all together because he is not the type of person who takes up a university study. He has a lot of energy, is very active and creative, has many friends.
Andi attended the same elementary and junior high school as his older siblings and then joined a technically oriented senior high school in Kaohsiung. The fact that the school is in the evening suits his lifestyle well. He likes to do things, not sit and listen, is straightforward, speaks his mind. Not all teachers like that. The fact that he is a foreigner makes him stand out even more.
Never mind, he’s doing okay.
Also Sami was born in Taiwan, in 2000, in the same hospital as Andi. He attended the same elementary school as his elder brothers and now goes to junior high. His story just begins. He recently decided to study the C++ programming language. I definitely can relate to that.
According to the amended regulation children who have lived in Taiwan for more than 10 years now can, at age 20, apply for a three year extension of their visa, possibly twice. The text of the amendment is a bit ambiguous. It appears that the government can make a decision on a case by case basis – not exactly a foundation suitable to make plans. While it is unclear if they will retain their ARC it is certain that it will not come with a work permit. Work permits are issued by the Ministry of Labor Affairs which has never shown signs of flexibility in this regard.
All this makes sense from no angle except one: While the Taiwan government professes interest in attracting and retaining foreign talent it has not opened up to the fact that the families of those that come have a value of their own. Rather, the government requires foreign kids who grew up here to qualify as white collar workers before they are granted the right to live a normal life while spouses have to stay at home. The amended regulation seemingly gives those young adults an extra few years to do that but without an open work permit they have little chance to get hired given the requirements covering white collar foreign workers.
Hence, before Taiwan government opens up to the human side of this issue we see little reason to celebrate.