Sunday, September 10, 2017

I am rather happy with this low-hanging fruit

Here are some of the really great (and necessary) things included in a bill being currently reviewed by the Legislative Yuan that will expand rights and opportunities for foreign professionals:

- Internship opportunities from recent graduates of "Top 500" universities
- A one-year job-seeking visa for foreign professionals
- A one-to-five year (depending on field) renewable visa/work permit bundle for foreign professionals that, after 5 years, confers APRC eligibility
- Tax breaks for people who are already high earners (meh)
- Foreign professional participation in pension programs
- APRC eligibility for the children and spouses of APRC holders
- Work rights for adult children of APRC holders with over 10 years of residency in Taiwan
- One-year visitation rights for parents of foreign white-collar workers

You won't find me spewing much invective for once - this is actually pretty good.

To be clear, at least one of these new perks is unnecessary: I see no reason to give major tax breaks to high earners who would presumably already enjoy a high standard of living in Taiwan. I am also not sure if "attracting more foreigners" is the best way to combat brain drain. Maybe try paying your own citizens competitively and providing them with enticing working conditions? Hmm?

Let's start with the good stuff first for once, however, before diving into the problems.

This is exactly the right way to go for the children of APRC holders. I dream someday of a Taiwan where they would have a path to citizenship (if not birthright citizenship, but even a pathway is something). I have a friend who was born here, whose home country and home culture are Taiwan, and yet who is not considered 'Taiwanese' because he doesn't have the ancestry. Of course he is Taiwanese, and the laws are unjust. He had to return to Canada for years before coming back here, on the same visa I held for years as someone with no prior connection to Taiwan. That's not right.

I have more than one friend who has had children in Taiwan. The older ones often leave, and those with young children worry about what their offspring will do when they come of age, if their native country is still saying "you are not from here and are not welcome here".

They need this. This is important. Every foreign worker thinking of staying long enough to have kids and raise them here absolutely needs this, and as a long-term expat myself, I know quite a few of them (as a married woman, although we intend to remain child-free, it would still be good to know our hypothetical children may fare better).

It is unclear of the adult offspring of APRC holders with over 10 years' residency must have lived here within a certain time frame - that is, whether or not my friend would quality, however. This ought to be clarified.

The work-seeking visa is also a big deal - I can't tell you how many people have taken jobs they don't want simply because they were worried about their visa. I can't tell you how many people had a few weeks or months of technically working illegally because the only way to get work here is to come on a tourist visa and then transition to a work visa, which takes time (this is technically illegal but the current regulations left most of us with little choice). This is truly an important step in ensuring that foreign professionals are able to come here without resorting to legal gray areas just to make it work.

The working rights are also a big deal, not only for children of APRC holders who would, one assumes, also be likely to have APRCs if they're old enough to work yet still dependents, but for spouses. A lot of - probably the majority of - spouses of foreign workers are wives whose husbands work - not allowing them to work essentially promotes gender role segregation that is entirely unjust in the 21st century.

And, finally, the one that might affect me: the pension scheme participation. I've said that the two main things keeping me from staying in Taiwan for the rest of my life on an APRC rather than as a citizen are, first, the inability to buy an apartment. I intend to work until I physically/mentally can't anymore - I actually like my job, after all - but where am I supposed to live when I'm too old to earn money and have no income? In my generation retirement savings that will last for the entirety of one's golden years is a pipe dream, although we do have savings. Paying rent is not really an option. What's more, it isn't particularly easy for the elderly to rent apartments in Taiwan. So how does an elderly non-homeowner without Taiwanese children stay here?

The second is pensions. Eventually I'll want to transition from the freelance work I currently enjoy to a more academic position. In, say, Canada (where my husband was born and therefore where we can live) that would generally come with a pension scheme. In Taiwan it does too...for locals or those married to locals. I am neither. I don't see, however, how I can stay when I might never be eligible for something I could get almost anywhere else I can legally live. So this really matters to me.

But, of course, the bill's provisions are not perfect. This wouldn't be Lao Ren Cha if I didn't complain.

I am not going to complain about money. Taiwan's wage stagnation is well-known. We all know that everyone, Taiwanese included, needs to be earning more. There's no reason to go into it further. Of course it's a problem.

Regarding things I do want to explore, it is unclear if the "foreign professionals" eligible for an employment card need the requisite "two years of experience in a related field or a Master's degree" to apply. A lot of people I know came to Taiwan before they had these things, and yet became valuable and contributing members of society here. Or, they had two years' work experience, but in a field they were hoping to get out of, not stay in (this was the case with me and my 2 years' experience in finance - a field I was desperate to leave). People often move abroad hoping to change careers, not necessarily continue them. That doesn't mean they aren't worth having in Taiwan.

I am also wary of the "Top 500 universities" rule. I understand why they are trying to implement it - they want some measure of 'prestige' for the people coming in - but leaving aside the impossibility of truly deciding which universities are in the "Top 500", what you are essentially doing is discriminating against those who weren't born into relative wealth.

On a First World scale, that means, had I not taken out heaps of loans (along with a scholarship and some family help) to go to my rather good private university in the US, my 'affordable' choice was State University of New York - and the one nearest my hometown is not one of the SUNY schools that is on this measure of world rankings. That would have meant that sound financial decisions - hey, I'm still paying off that student loan - as someone from a middle-class family that sometimes struggled would have rendered me potentially ineligible, for having gone to a perfectly okay and affordable school.

On a Third World scale, it discriminates, well, pretty indiscriminately. If you are from India, you would have had to have gone to an IIT - to be the best of the best - whereas in the US you could have gone to a better-than-SUNY-New Paltz state school and you'd be basically okay. For those from Southeast Asia, I couldn't find any universities outside of Singapore that would meet the requirements (Chulalongkorn University, for example, is ranked in the 600s).

It essentially says "Westerners welcome, the rest of the world not so much." Not quite "we don't want brown people" (plenty of Westerners are people of color) but pretty damn close.

A lot of my liberal Taiwanese friends say that while they have reservations about foreign blue-collar labor, they welcome foreign white-collar labor from around the world. This bill still discriminates against exactly those people. And how, if Taiwan's goal is greater links with Southeast Asia, is this going to further it, when most educated Southeast Asians would be essentially barred from the program?

And, of course, these goodies are only for white-collar workers. Our blue-collar foreign worker brothers and sisters are, as usual, left out and given the worst possible living and working opportunities in the country. They are basically being told "you can work here in a factory or as a maid, but while those wealthy Westerners can bring family here and even get them APRCs, you should leave your family in Vietnam/Indonesia/Thailand/the Philippines. They can have their parents visit for up to a year, but not you. You are lesser."

How is that fair?

And, of course, there are a few big things missing. I don't know what to do about mortgage discrimination as that's not a legal issue but rather an issue of banks being, well, unfairly discriminatory. However, it must be dealt with if we are to stay.

Another is that a one-year parent visa is perhaps insufficient. I don't intend to bring my father here to live - and in any case he's not elderly yet - but I know foreigners who are considering bringing their elderly parents here to care for them rather than moving back to the country of their birth. There is currently no visa for a stay of such indeterminate length.

There also seems to be a lack of a retirement visa. If a pathway to citizenship (or some other solution to everything keeping me from permanently committing to Taiwan as I would like to do) doesn't open up for us, we will likely leave simply out of necessity. However, I do want to live out my days in Taiwan - perhaps selling whatever property I may have bought abroad to buy a small apartment for us outright here. By then, however, we will have lost our APRCs. How are we to come back if there is no way to do so as retirees?

And, of course, we need a path to dual nationality - but we've been over that.

However, all of these issues aside, I am happy with this progress. I am especially excited for my friends with children in Taiwan who really deserve better for their Taiwan-born offspring than seeing them kicked out in their 20s. I'm happy for friends who may finally be free to search for a job without jumping through all sorts of sketchy legal loopholes.

A lot of these gimmes are low-hanging fruit, of course. I don't know any Taiwanese who would oppose allowing foreign professionals to have parents visit long-term, for example, or who would prefer that they come here and transition to work quasi-legally. I don't know any who think that children born in Taiwan should be forced to leave at age 20-26, and in fact, very few are aware this is even a problem.

So these are easy gifts - everything it takes very little effort to pluck off the legislative tree.

But you know what? I'll take it.


Unknown said...

I've been here almost 20 years, I'm married to a local and I, like you and every other long term resident, continue to be frustrated by the inability to get a mortgage. We've tried getting a mortgage under my wife's name but we can't get much because she doesn't make enough money and the banks won't consider my income when assessing her creditworthiness. Maybe the solution is a class action suit by Taiwanese spouses against the banks. They are being discriminated against as much s foreigners in this specific instance. You say in your post that you will eventually lose your APRC. WHy?

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

What I mean is, if we eventually leave Taiwan to work elsewhere (perhaps Canada) and stay for some years as we would do if we left, eventually the government would revoke our APRC. It's debated whether you can extend your APRC for 2 or 5 years with notification if you are not in Taiwan for an extended period, but it doesn't matter - I don't know anyone who's managed to extend it for 5+ years.

So if we did that, we'd lose our APRCs, and if we wanted to return to Taiwan (say, to retire) we wouldn't be able to. There is no retirement visa that I am aware of. And I wouldn't want to come back only to have to start the 5-years-on-a-work-visa process again, being someone's wage slave to keep my legal status.

Unknown said...

Ah, gotcha. I do know someone that extended his APRC for 3 years while he was in Slovenia studying but that's it. I know a foreign couple who having been here as long as I have are considering the possibility of one of them naturalizing here and giving up their UK passport and the other maintaining it so that if they ever need to go back, one can sponsor the other. Its silly to have to even consider these measures.

Anonymous said...

There are several groups who publish university rankings. They don't agree, and of course the rankings change from year to year. I wonder how this will be dealt with.

Retirement / parental visas are politically sensitive for fear that elderly immigrants would be a drain on the health insurance system. I dimly recall that 20 years ago, they did have such a visa, but that it was only open to people of Chinese descent.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Huh, so the usual Han chauvinism. You can retire here if you are the correct race.

There is an easy fix to the elderly immigrant issue - allow people who have held a visa - APRC or ARC - for a certain amount of time in the past access, so that people who once lived here and want to return can do so, without opening it to everyone, on the regular NHI system (obviously if one has an active APRC this is a moot point).

For everyone else including parents, have a special retirement visa that gives you access to NHI but at a somewhat higher, but not onerous, rate. Require a health check, so that those you let in will pay a lot into the system before they ever have to use it. That way they might actually be a boon rather than a drain.

Awais Hussain said...

You have summed up sea of problems in a cup. A long debate has been comping up on these issues form long time but still I see no improvement. I don't know why Taiwanese government's mind is like, "we are the only one, keep everyone out". Lot of foreigners are going through the situations you have mentioned above and still they don't know what their future hold. I hope one day Taiwanese govt. will realize these issues. If not then let the population of Taiwan fall down, which is a bomb ticking slowly but they don't realize yet, and then they will realize that "Oh we messed up back at this time...."