Monday, October 5, 2020

The Taichung City government is discriminating against foreign residents for no good reason


It's time to complain again. I hate this as much as you do.

It was announced recently that the Taichung City government would be ending its program offering free public transportation for the first 10km of any ride to all passengers. Starting January 1st, the free transit is only available to some "Taichung residents". Of course, that doesn't mean all Taichung residents, only Taichung residents who are Taiwanese. 

Foreign residents of Taichung are out of luck. 

I'm not a Taichung resident, but if you are, you absolutely should complain. Here's a link to do exactly that. Pass it on. 

The policy will still include foreign spouses and students studying in Taichung, but foreigners without a local spouse will have to pay. 

Let's leave aside that Taichung public transportation is a bit of a joke (it's hard to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time and every time I go I'm stuck taking taxis everywhere as I don't drive in cities). This is a shame, as good transit makes good cities for residents and visitors alike. The benefits are innumerable and undeniable. I'll be interested to see if the new MRT line improves the situation. 

Let's focus instead on the biggest impact: foreign blue-collar workers, typically factory workers and caregivers/home health aides. 

For "us" (relatively comfortable members of the foreign community who aren't going to hurt from having to pay a small amount for public transit), the insult is more symbolic. For me, it's entirely symbolic: I don't live in Taichung so I'd have to pay regardless, and I'm fine with that. 

For foreign residents who are routinely underpaid, work long hours and are more likely to rely on public transportation on a tight budget, the difference between being able to use the system for free like any other Taichung resident and being asked to pay is likely to exacerbate real struggles. 

As with every city in Taiwan, Taichung needs these workers. They are part of the backbone of a city's workforce. Here in Taipei, I don't know how my local community, full of senior citizens, would function without the large number of caregivers. Taichung's industrial centers surely need them as well. They are residents too, and it's offensive to treat them as outsiders, asking them pay for a service that's free for other residents, all while paying them below-average wages. 

Most visitors will bring or rent their own transportation, or use taxis like me. That means the vast majority of people asked to pay will still be Taichung residents -- just not Taiwanese ones. 

It's not a bad idea to charge for public transit, but it is deeply unfair to ask only some residents to pay, especially when so many of those residents struggle more than their Taiwanese neighbors.

Even though for us privileged foreigners, the issue is the principle and not the actual money involved, it's still offensive. We've been through this before -- again, again, and again. At this point, it's clear that forgetting that foreigners reside in Taiwan too, and we depend on the services that our taxes help pay for too, is either deliberate or deliberately obtuse.

In short, I am extremely tired of the whole "we forgot you guys existed!" game. It's getting old and it's got to stop. Especially when you don't know when the exclusion is deliberate and when your communities are just...forgotten. 

Plus, it reeks of a localist mindset - the only residents of Taiwan who matter are Taiwanese, apparently - that won't help Taiwan in its efforts to reach out internationally. Taiwan not only needs its local workers, both the blue-collar workers that basically keep Taiwan running and the white-collar ones who at the very least pay taxes and are an integral part of the economy, but we're also a strong source of soft power abroad. Some (like me) are privileged and some are underprivileged (a situation which really must be dealt with), but along with locals, we are all residents and we should all be in this together, and be a force that is good for Taiwan together. If the truth is "Taiwan for Taiwanese only and foreigners are only welcome to a certain extent, for what they can give us, but we'll shortchange them at every opportunity"...well, that's just not good for the country. 

And there's no good reason for it. Why can't Taichung residency be determined by the address on your ARC? Why include students (meaning that you're willing to include people without a local household registration) but not foreigners who've lived here for longer? If it's because "students are usually on a budget", well, blue-collar foreign workers are too because they're so underpaid so that's not an excuse either. I could understand making it free for all residents but charging visitors, but this is just plain discrimination as it's not going to be free for all residents! 

Yet it may be free for some visitors -- if your household registration is in Taichung it won't matter if you live in a different city, you'll get the benefit while plenty of actual Taichung residents won't. This isn't a "help Taichungers" strategy. It's an anti-foreigner one.

In short, Taiwan is never going to reach out to the international community abroad effectively if it can't even reach out to the international community locally. If it still forgets -- or stubbornly insists -- that we don't matter, or we don't exist, or that double-standard treatment for different residents is acceptable, or that some residents are more "real" residents than others.

It's not acceptable. It has to stop. 


Dudemaster said...

、Even though for us privileged foreigners、

I don't agree that any foreigners are privileged here, shut some are legally more discriminated than others, and that sucks too.

James said...

Every penny counts, but Taiwan bussing is already really cheap. It is a privilege not a right to have free public transport. All other Taiwanese cities have to pay for public transport, their foreign workers still get by. Most domestic caregivers life where they work, most factory blue collar workers life close to where they work as well and may have their own bicycles or motorised bikes. This isn't the same as UBike not allowing foreigners to register.

Unknown said...

Such an old, old story! You are right that it should stop. We all pay taxes, so we should all benefit equally from public services. My colleague lived in the UK for several years and was surprised at what he was eligible for as a foreign resident of the country. Upon returning to Taiwan he assumed it was the same for foreign residents here and was shocked when he discovered it wasn’t. I do love living in Taiwan, and I agree this would not really impact me hugely as a higher wage earner, but the principle remains.

Jenna Cody said...

"Their foreign workers"? They don't own them. Do you mean the foreign workers here? Yes, many get by, but it can be tough and literally every little thing helps. Besides, if foreign workers (who are mostly blue-collar, we white-collar foreigners are a minority of the foreign community) who are Taichungers pay but Taichungers who are Taiwanese don't pay, the city is basically saying that the underpaid foreign workers have to subsidize the free rides of the people who underpay them. That is really not fair.

I'm not against charging nominal amounts for public transit. But it should be fair - all, or none. Or every resident of a place, or none of them. I am very much against discrimination, which this is, a point you seem to be ignoring.

Unknown said...

...Let's not pretend here, Taiwanese have always been racists and will always be, especially to Asian countries that surround it, you have no rights in their eyes, if you're a white person from USA/Canada etc, you get a certain amount of leeway, but still get racist treatment.

Jenna Cody said...

I don't believe it's possible to get 'racist' treatment as a white person, but yes, discriminatory treatment certainly happens. I actually don't think "most" Taiwanese are racist...I think like any country, some are and some aren't to varying degrees and in varying ways. Every country has great people, jerks and everyone in between. Taiwan is no exception.

Dudemaster said...

Why you don't believe that ?

Of course it's possible and it happens , just less obvious and less common than towards folks from South East Asia

Jenna Cody said...

I believe racism is discrimination plus power, and that around the world, even when they are in the minority, white people get preferential treatment and privilege (that’s a form of power), which often results in opportunities that a local with similar qualifications would be less likely to get, or that in your own country you wouldn’t get, but you do if you’re a white person in Asia. All of that privilege brings a certain amount of power. So while it’s possible to discriminate against white people — and that certainly does happen — racism happens when other systemic issues are at play where being white disadvantages you beyond single acts of discrimination. I do not believe that happens (there are some ways we are at a disadvantage, e.g. anyone who wants a mortgage or credit card or to truly immigrant, but these are far outweighed by advantages and privileges.) Even the visa system privilege us over working-class immigrants (who do face deep systemic disadvantages in Taiwan and specifically lack the institutional advantages that citizens, or people like me, have.)

So acts of discrimination do happen, but

To believe otherwise is to believe that racism and discrimination are the same thing, but they aren’t. Two different words exist for a very good reason.