Monthly Archives: October 2014

A lucrative Taiwan popular sport: “Whistleblowing”

 The world press has reported on numerous cases of high-profile whistleblowing and its contribution to combat a wide range of crimes.

According to an article in Taipei Times the Taiwan government now provides a stage for entry level whistleblowing to the entire population. The law has actually been announced already in 2009: Guidelines for Payment of Monetary Rewards to the Public Reporting the Violations against Employment Services Act

People who report situations of foreigners working without work permits now are eligible to receive a financial reward of 10,000 NTD (approximately 350 USD or 250 Euro).

I’m not lamenting that the authorities punish law violations – no matter how senseless some of these laws may be in certain cases. However, offering financial rewards for the report of minor ‘crimes’ like substituting for an English teacher for a few hours per week or even giving private language lessons truly means taking law enforcement to an entire new level.

The details involved in terms of mindset can only be properly ascertained if one is sufficiently familiar with the local culture and mentality. Let me try anyway…

This is not an entirely new development. Snitching on your fellow man and woman is cultivated early in Taiwan society.

For example, if you drive by public schools early in the morning – prior to 8:00 AM – you will notice students in school uniform standing by the gate holding notepads and pens.  These students take down the names of others who a) arrive late or b) wear the wrong uniform for the day or c) arrive on bicycle without helmet or d) are dropped off by a parent arriving on bike but not wear a helmet plus a few other things.

Such violations are compiled in a database and converted into penalty points, lovingly called ‘bad points,’ which yield various disadvantages, possibly including lowered grades.

This has been practiced for generations and developed into some kind of tradition.

In modern times electronic devices supplement the efforts. Streets and public spaces, including schoolyards, are littered with surveillance cameras. Fellow students or teachers screen the footage to discover incidents of entering late, stepping into forbidden areas, hanging out with the wrong people. All this can increase a student’s account of penalty points and have dire consequences including reduced grades in math and science or even eviction from school.

In many cities the police nowadays also rewards reports of traffic violations (including parking) by passing on a portion of the fine to the reporting party.  Quite a few people derive a supplementary income from handing over to the police photos and videos made with smartphones in return for a reward once the fine is collected.

No doubt, authorities need to enforce the laws of the land if they receive notice of violations. However, it’s only a matter of time that the practice of paying the reporting party for reports – which may have been filed for entirely selfish reasons – backfires openly into the face of the authorities, for example in the form of vandalism against public and private property. The plethora of surveillance cameras whose omnipresence is at times astounding will not be of much help much here.

Over the years and generations rigid insistence to comply with at times arbitrary rules has already instilled a sense of disempowerment and stifled creativity and initiative.  Encouraging the population to report on each other for the sake of financial gain may for some time continue to keep people within all too narrow confines. But it has not and never will give rise to the zeal and creativity that the country desperately needs to reach the next level of development within the international community.

But then, probably none of the democratically elected decision makers or entrenched bureaucrats will care or even know the difference.

Three year ARC extension for children of ARC holders

Earlier this year of 2014 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs introduced two modifications to immigration regulations which have been hailed as steps in the right direction. A closer look reveals that both are standard steps in the dance around square one – pretending action while carefully avoiding relevant change.

The first change concerns children of foreign parents where one of the parents has acquired permanent residency rights.

First some background:

If you come to Taiwan as a foreign professional you can after 5 years apply for a permanent residency certificate (APRC). Some conditions apply: you need to earn a certain minimum salary (~50,000 NTD = twice the current official minimum wage), be continuously employed without a single day of interruption, pay your taxes etc. Here a link to the official list of requirements for APRC.

Over the years the procedure has been streamlined and if all goes well you receive your APRC within about a week after filing the paperwork.

However, this applies to you alone.

If you brought your family with you – these things happen – the status of your spouse and children, even those born in Taiwan, remains unchanged. They are still temporary residents and their ARC (note the missing P) depends on yours entirely.

We already had the discussion whether this is right and wrong, good or bad, fair or unfair. Suffice it to say that a lot of developed countries (USA, Western Europe) by now extend equal treatment to the families of those they court to come work in the country. Once the head of the family receives permanent residency rights so does the family. This assures that children who grow up in the country have the same opportunities as all the other members of society.

Obviously, Taiwan hasn’t made it that far yet.

So far for the background.

The hailed improvement now is this:

Children of APRC holders, who normally have to leave the country once they turn 20, are now allowed to apply for a three year extension, maybe twice.

Conditions apply: The applicant must have been in Taiwan for more than 270 days per year for at least 10 years. Okay, one might expect that from children. For more details click here.

The application must be filed within 30 days before the ARC expires. Once their ARC expires they are essentially foreigners with the same status as people who never set foot on Taiwan soil. That applies also to those born in Taiwan.

The extension – just as all the ARCs for family members – does not come with a work permit. They can’t even take a part time job. Not legally. They can, if eligible, take up a university study and will then receive a student work permit but only after completing the first year of study. Other than that they have to live off their parents money.

The regulation change is is not retroactive. Those whose ARC ran out before the regulation was enacted (even a single day) are out of luck – and should better have left the country already being welcome to return as tourists.

Fortunately, the regulation still applies when there was a break in the type of the visa. If a person who grew up in Taiwan as a dependent of an APRC holder started a university study and applied for a student visa he can still apply for the extension. However, rumour has it, that lower ranking immigration officials, the people you normally talk to when you go to the office, don’t necessarily know about the regulation change and how it applies in detail. So you might have to gently insist that they read up on it and maybe get a ranking official involved.

So far so good. One can only hope that over time more sensible regulations will allow the families of foreign professionals to lead a normal life in Taiwan. For example, having to tell a 16-year-old that he can’t get a part time job like all his Taiwanese friends is not a lot of fun.

The second strike of genius is a point system supposed to facilitate obtaining work permits – especially for students without prior work experience. But that’s a different article – coming soon.