Showing posts with label dual_nationality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dual_nationality. Show all posts

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Immigration and racism in Taiwan: it's not about who you are when you come, but who you become after you arrive

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Silhouettes of a visitor and a foreign resident in Taiwan

Perhaps an explosive title, but hear me out. I'm going to talk mostly about Taiwan in this post, but the ideas I want to express can be applied to more or less any country (there may be a few exceptions that I'm not aware of  - but by and large this is a global problem). Otherwise, let's just jump right in.

In Taiwan, it's fairly easy for professionals to immigrate and gain permanent residency, at least compared to much of the rest of the world. If you are a professional with at least two years' experience in your field or a Master's degree in any field (which has to be a face-to-face program and in some cases, excludes part-time programs) and someone will hire you, you can come to Taiwan with few problems. If you stay for five years, you can get permanent residency. That's actually not bad by global standards. It's much harder to get a visa to work in most Western countries, and permanent residency (e.g. a green card) can take ages. Of course, some are easier than others.

But it is discriminatory - if you're from a family that is middle class or wealthy, you're more likely to have access to the education you need to get hired. You're more likely to speak an international language (such as English, though for Taiwan, Mandarin is a huge help), because you had access to that same education which probably included it. You probably also come from a worldlier 'family culture' that would have encouraged knowing such a language: families where parents and relatives speak a foreign language are more likely to have offspring who also grow up to speak that language.

So, off the bat, any sort of points-based or 'professional' based visa system is automatically classist, because mostly people born into certain social classes have the access to the education and training they need to get hired and obtain a visa in a country like Taiwan (or Australia, or the US, or...etc.)

If you come from a 'developed' country, many (or most) of which are majority-white for historical reasons that are deeply unfair, you are far more likely to be born into such a family. What is the likelihood of, say, a European being born into circumstances that would allow them these advantages, compared to, say, someone from Southeast Asia outside Singapore? A lot greater. So what are your chances of meeting visa requirements calibrated to attract 'professionals' if you already come from a developed (and therefore more likely - though not necessarily - majority white) country? Comparatively speaking, how likely are you to be able to meet those same requirements if you come from a developing country that is almost certainly not white? Anecdotal evidence does not count. "I'm white but my life was tough" does not count - that's not statistical likelihood. "I'm from Vietnam but my family was rich" is also not statistical likelihood. On average, what are your chances?

Since race intersects with class - the color line is the power line is the poverty line - and you are simply more likely to be from a privileged background if you are white - such a system also gives an unfair advantage to people who are white. There are exceptions for sure, but again, we're talking averages here.

In Taiwan's case, I simply don't care if the goal is to attract certain kinds of professionals, in part because doing so is simply inherently classist (and therefore racist) - and that is exactly how Taiwan's immigration system works, both in terms of getting visas to come here, getting permanent residency, and getting citizenship. If you qualify for a professional visa, permanent residency is fairly easy, but if you come here to study - say, you are one of the Southeast Asian students that Taiwan hopes to attract - that doesn't count, and it can be difficult to transition. If you are a blue-collar worker, there's no path at all. To be a citizen, you have to be even more 'qualified', which probably means coming from an even wealthier background, or have 'Chinese ancestry' (which is a law that's obliquely about race).

You can come here and seek a better life, but probably only if your previous life was comparatively privileged, and you can stay forever, but you're probably already really privileged if qualify just isn't a good look.

I also believe that it doesn't actually achieve Taiwan's goals. The birthrate is falling, and while I don't necessarily think "we must unceasingly increase our population so the young can support the old" is a good long-term plan - Taiwan's easily habitable areas are already densely populated and there is finite space and resources - the best way to ensure population stability is to loosen immigration requirements. A lot of these immigrants will marry and have children locally, which is a huge bonus for Taiwan. Not just  professionals: everyone.

In addition, I'm not at all convinced that the visa requirements and citizenship, plum blossom and gold card requirements actually meet Taiwan's needs. Taiwanese media routinely talks about the need to train more vocational workers, there is an oversupply of local workers for white-collar jobs (which is one reason wages are low, though not the only one), and with a low birthrate, Taiwan's labor force depends on immigration. Yes, this is true even despite the brain drain due to low wages and stressful, borderline-tyrannical office culture. And yet, it's especially true for blue-collar workers, because local vocational training is not particularly good and not highly-respected.

It would simply be smarter and truly meet Taiwan's needs, then, to relax rules for blue-collar immigrants, not just white-collar ones. So why have white collar workers been specifically prioritized? (That's a rhetorical question. The answers are racism and classism.)

And, of course, that's not even getting into what white collar workers Taiwan actually needs compared to whom it is trying to attract. With an initiative to become "bilingual by 2030", you'd think they'd want more qualified teachers and teacher trainers who can train up newly-hired local and foreign teachers, and yet for the education sector, only "associate professors", not regular teachers, qualify for dual nationality. That makes no sense at all.

And finally, it's simply the right thing to do. A place - whether that's a country, region or city - prospers when it is open to everyone seeking a better life, and the drawbacks are few. Yes, an influx of labor may cause short-term drops in wages, but those tend to recover. Yes, increased multiculturalism can cause friction, but it doesn't have to be that way, and the advantages of being exposed to people whose backgrounds and worldviews are unlike your own outweigh the drawbacks. Plus, it's a super great way to not be racist! They bring talent and creativity as well as hard work. They open businesses, get married, start families. They fill needs and niches in society. They matter, even if they don't come with a pre-fab education or specific work experience.

In other words, it's not about who you are when you come. Or it shouldn't be. It's who you become after you arrive. 


I want to insert a little story about how I came here and taught English with very few qualifications (some teaching experience in a variety of settings, from children to adults, from monolingual to multilingual, in the US and outside of it, both English and native-speaker literacy, but no formal training.) I want to talk about how the only way I got to where I am now - the person who trains people like my former self - is because of the opportunities I could only access after I got to Taiwan. I want to talk about how I could never have afforded my subsequent training and education with the low purchasing power my American existence felt like it was dooming me to. But I won't (I mean, other than the fact that I just did). I grew up with English as my first language, and standard American English at that. I'm white. I was privileged enough to be born into a family that, with some difficulty, sent me to university. I'm already privileged, so my story isn't the point.

Otherwise, if you say you support immigration to Taiwan but you only mean immigration for the already-privileged, you don't really support immigration. You support classist, and therefore racist, immigration policy. You support people who look and sound like me, but not anyone really different from you. I mean that for Taiwanese as well: yes, we are different, from different backgrounds. Yes, this might lead to some differences in worldview. But, educated Taiwanese readers who can read this in English, you and I have more in common because of our class background than either of us have in common with someone from a truly marginalized community. Especially if you are Han Taiwanese - Han privilege is absolutely a thing, and you know it.

If those other people like us are Asian - say, Hong Kongers, Singaporeans or Japanese - then they are just that much more similar to you, coming from the same region, though not the same culture and society.

Do you really want to support only people who don't seem so different - people like me - or do you really want to support Taiwan being an international society where everyone can seek a better life?

Taiwan is already a multicultural society - though the rate fluctuates, the number of Taiwanese children with a foreign parent has always been higher than a lot of people realize. After all, most of the time, those foreign parents are Asian, so it's hard to tell. For the past few centuries, this country has had foreign travelers, residents, colonizers and spouses interwoven into its cultural and historical fabric. Although there's a 'majority' culture, it's only a monoculture if you want to believe it is (and if you think 'monoculture' includes other foreigners if those foreigners happen to be Asian).

I see no reason why that can't be reflected in a better, more egalitarian, more welcoming and less racist immigration policy. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Alliance for a Globally-Oriented Taiwan kicks off

If you're reading this at all, you're probably wondering what happened to me all month. Yeah, well, I'm wondering too. I've been doing a pre-Lunar New Year deep clean of our apartment as I'm not particularly busy with work. Also, the election's still got me down.

Not because my "team" "lost" (they didn't, really: the NPP is the closest thing I've got to a team I root for, and they performed better than anyone expected, including perhaps, quietly, the NPP themselves). People I don't like win elections all the time and I don't fret about it for two months.

No, what causes a sinking feeling in my heart every time I think about it is a far bigger problem: that, although it would be political suicide for the DPP to make a big deal out of it, interference from China was real, and terrifying. We can't prove how effective it was, but there sure seemed to be some effect, and if that's the case they will try it again. And again. And they very well may win. Yikes. I just...can't.

So, let's talk about something positive instead.

This past week, a group of 90-100 people, foreigners and Taiwanese, congregated in the Legislative Yuan to have a large-scale discussion meeting about how to implement the 'bilingual Taiwan' initiative (you might know it as 'English as a second official language', announced by former premier William Lai). Heading the meeting were legislators Karen Yu (余宛如) Rosalia Wu (吳思瑤)as well as National Development Council leadership, Professor Louis Chen of Global Brands Management Association, STARTBOARD and Crossroads.TW founder David Chang. The general attendees were a mix of teachers, school owners, recruiters, academics, NGO and nonprofit representatives, a few activists and some journalists.

One thing that was made clear was that the point is not to suddenly start forcing everyone to speak English, or spend their own money to go to cram school to study English, or to have all official documents in English and Mandarin (but not any other languages more native to or historically linked to Taiwan, such as indigenous languages or Taiwanese). The point is to develop Taiwan's international competitiveness by making it more accessible in English, and to increase the general public's familiarity with English, while potentially reforming the educational system to emphasize English proficiency. And over several decades, as that.

Put that way, it sounds quite reasonable.

The outcome of this meeting is the formation of the Alliance for a Globally-Oriented Taiwan, with more specific action items to be developed in the coming weeks. At minimum we're looking at advocacy, advisory status and policy proposals. While it has the potential to be another layer of talk, there's also the potential for it to be much more than that.

That two legislators and the NDC made sure the meeting took place, were there and paid attention to what foreigners were saying is already huge: I'm not sure it's ever happened before. For that reason alone it might have some real effect.

I won't spend too much time going over what was said by the leaders - that's been covered extensively in the Mandarin-language media and basically boiled down to "we're on your side", "we want to do this in a feasible way" and, of course, that the point isn't just to be bilingual, it's a push for greater internationalization.

Instead, I'll spend some time summarizing some of what came out of the contributors in the general audience.

Not everyone got a chance to speak (I did), but I was happy to hear that most opinions were dead-on (some I disagreed with mildly; there were just a few that I simply wasn't on board with). And yes, I do equate "dead on" with "I agreed with it", because in this particular field I will not hesitate to say that I know what I'm talking about.

There was a general agreement that we need to do a better job of teacher training in Taiwan, with ideas for this ranging from bringing in better-qualified teachers to building a teacher-training program in Taiwan from scratch. The latter is an idea I disagree with quite strongly: internationally-recognized and up-to-standard teaching certifications exist already, from teaching licenses/PGCE programs to CELTA/Trinity to Delta and various Master's programs. There's no need to build a program from scratch when...frankly, to mix metaphors, that wheel's already been invented.

The key is to make them more accessible in Taiwan. If you want to improve your teaching through formal training here, it's quite difficult: the government doesn't recognize programs like CELTA or Delta or any online programs; often for Master's programs (even reputable ones) there are residency requirements so a part-time student, even if they attend face-to-face, is going to have trouble. So we have to make these programs both available and recognized, potentially with a sponsorship program to make them affordable, too.

The owners of Reach To Teach, a reputable teacher recruiting company, pointed out that Taiwan has no program through which novice teachers can come here and work in schools (even as assistants), and the only way to work in a school in Taiwan is to come as a licensed teacher. Japan brings foreign teachers into public schools through JET by having them work as assistants as they are not qualified to actually teach; I'm not sure about Korea's EPIK program. What's more, in those countries novice teachers often earn more than trained teachers are offered in schools in Taiwan.

What everyone agreed on was that salaries in Taiwan being low for everyone, including locals, was going to make it hard to internationalize and attract foreign talent, and would not necessarily attract much local talent to English teaching, either. Before this can happen, pay prospects here simply have to get better.

Of course, as someone else pointed out, South Korea and Japan are not bilingual countries. Because, of course, countries where English is more widely spoken got that way through historical (typically colonial) means, but also because those countries routinely employ a large number of local teachers and don't rely on foreign ones.

That's really key, not only in terms of getting enough foreign teachers to do the job, but also cutting down a native speakerist view of English: that English is a White People thing, that White People go to Other Countries to teach Local People, who Learn It. But a country only becomes multilingual when locals are there making it happen. You can't import that kind of culture shift, nor should you.

(Obviously not every native speaker teacher is white, I'm talking about perceptions, not reality.)

There was a huge outpouring of angst, as well. That's not a criticism; I happen to agree with much of it. The notion that Taiwan needs to 'attract' more foreign talent bothered some, who pointed out quite rightly that many talented foreigners are already here, but can't get work outside of English teaching. Some stay and teach because it's all they can do; some leave because there's just no career future here and go to Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, back to their native countries or elsewhere.

There was also an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the lack of readable English information on Taiwanese websites, including government websites. If Taiwan is truly going to become an English-friendly country, at the bare minimum all government websites need to be translated completely into (good) English.

Quite a bit of dissatisfaction was expressed over Taiwan's horrifying national examination system (including from me). I pointed out that research consistently shows that elementary-school language teachers in Taiwan are happy to incorporate more modern teaching methods into their practice, but  junior and senior high school teachers aren't, and the big difference is that older learners need to be prepared for the massive battery of mostly-useless and actively harmful exams that they have to take. The teachers themselves have said this quite clearly. There is simply no way for a language education program that actually results in English language proficiency to exist side-by-side with those exams.

The issue, of course, is that parents and some teachers fight viciously against any attempt to change the system. The parents think that more accurate assessment is somehow 'less objective' (not realizing that the tests their children are taking now aren't even accurate or related to real-world language use, and take away so much learning time as to actually harm their overall achievement) and some teachers are afraid they'll lose their jobs if schools suddenly start doing things differently. We need to work with both groups to advocate for change and convince them that there's nothing to be afraid of.

And, as usual, immigration is a massive issue. Those of us who want to stay forever - the well-secured roots of an international Taiwan - are concerned with how difficult it still is to obtain dual nationality or even an employment Gold Card. As a friend of mine pointed out, his employer (Academia Sinica) interprets the dual nationality requirements as stated to mean "we'll do what we need to do to get your application through when you get tenure". Imagine having to be a tenured professor at Academia Sinica before you can even approach dual nationality as an educator! Making it easier to move here and work is important for new immigrants; dual nationality is a core concern of us long-termers. Without it, internationalization can't happen, as we'll always be outsiders.

The downside of the meeting is that a lot of the issues discussed - low pay, lack of career opportunities for foreigners etc - are not easily solvable by the government. Even if they were, there's an entire legislature to convince. Two progressive legislators and the NDC are a good start, but it's not the end. There's a lot to be done and simply "this doesn't work! We can't get good jobs!" isn't something that can be specifically targeted, especially when locals are also struggling in a slow-growth economy.

The upside is that, again, it's huge that the meeting happened at all. People in government are interested, and listening, and that's more than I could say even three years ago. (And for us foreigners, is a big reason to support the Tsai administration). That's something, and we need to turn it into something real.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

And everyone who knows us knows...we didn't come for money

I promised I'd eventually pick up where I left off here, so...

Last month I came across this job posting with MoFA (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) through the Facebook group of Nihao's It Going (and for those wondering why there is no Lao Ren Cha Facebook group, the answer is that I am old and lazy.)



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No link because the ad is no longer online. That probably means someone took the job, or they'd have extended the posting dates. It's too much to hope for that MoFA realized how embarrassing that salary offer was and immediately, contritely took the ad down until they could come up with a better offer.

My mouth was agape at the requirement of a Master's obtained outside Taiwan (the hell?), so let's briefly take a look at that. What the hell is going on that the Taiwanese government is announcing openly that Master's degrees obtained in Taiwan are substandard? (I suspect for some subjects, at some universities, they are - but even so, for the government to be openly acknowledging this is horrifying).

Then, look at the salary: NT$66,000/month. And look at what they want for that.


That's...about US$2200/month - enough to live comfortably in Taiwan if you are single or a dual-income couple, but not enough to raise a family. Enough to get by and save a little for some nice vacations, but not enough to save meaningfully for any long-term goals. In 2006, if Kojen (a large buxiban chain) put you - probably a teacher lacking most of this list of qualifications - on a salaried rather than hourly rate, it was NT$60k - not a lot less than this offer, and 12 years ago at that.

Even sadder is that they seem to have enough applications to justify taking the post down from people willing to accept that pay. 

In short, it's a joke. So between bouts of laughter, I've been thinking a lot about why I stay - why any foreign talent stays, when the pay is just this damn bad. More importantly, I've been thinking about that means in terms of the greater conversation about brain drain and attracting (and retaining) foreign talent in Taiwan. Or, for that matter, local talent.

Why some people stay anyway is an easy question to answer: for me, it's a combination. My social life is very much here now. I love my friends back in the US, but there is no denying we've grown apart somewhat (this is less of a problem with friends in the UK). Not only do I find it hard to explain what my life is actually like in Taiwan to friends who have never visited.

Beyond that, I simply care about the country. Assuming I wouldn't move back to the US (and I wouldn't, unless I felt I had to), and assuming learning a new language isn't a problem (and it probably wouldn't be - I'm good at that), I find it hard to imagine coming to care about another place as much as I do Taiwan. Korea, Japan and Hong Kong are interesting - as are many places farther afield and outside Asia - but am I really going to start passionately fighting for the concept of Korean identity, or Japanese democracy or discussing Argentinian history in the detail I do about Taiwan? Am I going to start collecting and reading books about Jordan? Probably not.

Leaving aside the mostly-hideous architecture and other endemic, intractable problems here, there's something special about the place. A spark that caught my eye. A streak of rebelliousness that chimes a matching tone to something within me. A real fight, for freedom against oppression, for democracy against dictatorship, for right (if flawed) against absolutely wrong.

I've also come to learn about myself that even if I cannot vote, I must live in a free society, and one where women's issues have at least reached the level of discourse they have in Taiwan. That cuts out more than half the world, including much of the rest of Asia. China is a no-go, so is Vietnam. Hong Kong isn't quite free. Japan and South Korea have bigger issues with sexism than Taiwan.

And it's convenient - I think there's a law somewhere requiring that I say that. Sure. And I really do prefer living in the developed world, and in a place with a first-rate public transit network.

Oh yeah and all my stuff's here and my cats and all that. Sure.

Point is, if all I cared about was money, there are a lot of places I could go, and make lots more of it. Obviously, other priorities keep me here. 


Other people have other reasons - perhaps their job is more tied to Taiwan, whereas I could find better work if I were willing to leave. Perhaps they've married locally, or are a specialist in local politics or history (things I am personally interested in, but am not a credentialed expert in), or have invested their whole lives in learning Mandarin or Taiwanese.

There are a million reasons why we accept low pay and generally poor working conditions, from the grounded (say, married locally) or conceptual (caring about Taiwan as a cause worth fighting for).

I'm not trying to defend the offering of NT$66,000/month to someone who would earn three times that, or more, elsewhere. I'm not saying that Taiwan is attractive to foreign talent despite being a place where, in many cases, your career can only go so far. In my own life, I'm grateful for the career boost Taiwan has given me, but I also see the end of the road: the point where I could go further in life (and make a lot more money, and eventually earn citizenship) if I were willing to leave. That hasn't changed.

And if Taiwan really wants to attract foreign expertise, they are simply going to have to offer a better, and better-remunerated, work culture. Period. So who cares why we stay?

Mainly, it matters because it breaks down this myth that talent always, in every instance, follows money. It's one thing to say that Taiwan needs to be more attractive to foreign talent. It's quite another to imply the flip-side of that, as some do: that everyone who is talented therefore leaves, or goes elsewhere to begin with, and those who come and stay must therefore not be desirable talent.

Whether we're talking about locals or foreigners, this is simply not fair. If some of us have other reasons why we stay, it follows that at least some of those who remain will have the talent and expertise Taiwan needs, and we deserve better than to be dismissed as losers for sticking around. I know people among my friends and connections here who are: long-termers a deeply committed teacher of children; a generous friend who gives up heaps of personal time to volunteer in underprivileged communities; several formidable scholars and journalists who, in the face of a low-quality media environment, ensure that information about Taiwan is available in a variety of languages; talented teachers of adults who have the training and experience to remake what it means to learn; public figures who bring like-minded expats together; a migrant rights activist; several writers and artists; several LGBT rights activists and more. So many more. Forget me, I'm just a weirdo with opinions - look at the whole picture. 

And yes, there are losers too, and leeches, but we're not all LBHs (Losers Back Home) who can't leave because nowhere else will put up with our bullshit, just because we haven't chased the dollar signs to some other country. We all have our reasons for staying.

Again, so what?

Well, not all of these examples of the creativity, experience and expertise that we bring to Taiwan fit into the little pegs set out by the government. We have a lot to offer, but because we're not necessarily the kind of 'foreign experts' who do chase dollar signs, we don't always meet the qualifications to be considered a 'foreign expert'.

Becoming a 'foreign expert' costs money, especially if you have already built a life in Taiwan, and suddenly find you need to relocate abroad to gain the qualifications you need (hence my problem with the "Master's degree from a university not located in Taiwan" in that ad, although I am obtaining exactly that. Not sure how I'll afford the PhD though, with an entire life that I can't just give up in Taiwan.) Those of us who have other reasons for staying and don't just chase money...tend not to have huge amounts of it.

The way the discussion about immigration and dual nationality rights is going now, it seems most of the Taiwanese government thinks we're all worthless slobs when what they want to attract is "real" expertise, not the slothful degenerates they imagine us to be, showing up to 550/hour classes at Happy Eagle English Scholar's Acadamy still drunk on Taiwan Beer. 

It dismisses those of us who came to Taiwan as nothing and built something, even if we didn't quite build it to the exact specifications set out for 'special' foreign professionals. It completely ignores the ways in which we've looked to give back, and the ways we - the ones who stay despite the crap work culture and crappier pay - are the real soft power.

I know it's a bit odd to say "we're not here for the money" alongside "...but really, we need more money". It's true, though. We stay for other reasons, but things absolutely have to get better, or we may start losing the good people who stayed on regardless.  Those of us who have good but not 'special professional' situations won't move into these more prestigious jobs if the pay is so paltry. 


We deserve better pay and work conditions, just as locals do (and I acknowledge locals need it more). But those who have made something of ourselves here also deserve to be recognized as the people who stayed even when we could have gone elsewhere and earned a lot more, and what that means in terms of the value we add to Taiwan.

Monday, August 20, 2018

We are the soft power (Part 1)

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Awhile back, I attended one of the Urban Nomad Film Festival screenings of Metal Politics Taiwan (read my review of it here) - a documentary chronicling the first year in office of black metal frontman, super hunk and then-newly-elected legislator Freddy Lim. At the end of the screening, Lim graciously participated in a Q&A session, where I had the honor of asking the last question.

I didn't blog about this until now, because the recording wasn't available. Now it is - you can watch it here (Freddy's reply is in Chinese).

I...um, haven't watched it. Why? I absolutely hate the way I look and sound on video (though I tend not to mind photos of myself) and just don't really want to watch myself. Anyway, I know what was said, I know how Freddy replied, and I don't need to watch it again.

If you don't want to watch the video (and please feel free to skip footage of me, jeez), basically I asked a two-part question: first, I asked for his opinion on the notion that Taiwan's soft power initiatives have actually failed (considering that soft power had been discussed at length in the previous questions, in a more optimistic way). There are non-Palestinians who care about Palestine, and non-Tibetans who care about Tibet, but there are very few non-Taiwanese who care about Taiwan. We haven't been reaching the audiences we need to reach to bring the case for Taiwan to the international community.

Then, I asked about immigration (the question he answered first), noting that one of the key drivers of Taiwan's soft power are the foreigners who have made Taiwan their home, and most of them are not the "special professionals" who now qualify for dual nationality. They're the ones like me, who come as nobodies, maybe teach English for awhile, but the best of whom eventually find their groove and find ways to contribute to Taiwan as well as discuss Taiwan (and its message - that it is a vibrant democracy on the front line of the fight between freedom and authoritarianism) with loved ones in our places of origin. Yet we don't qualify to be dual nationals - we aren't special enough. That there are people who worked on Metal Politics Taiwan who are some of the key drivers of Taiwan's soft power abroad, who want to be Taiwanese citizens, who don't qualify. It's not the foreign engineers and the missionaries who are spreading Taiwan's message, it's the people like us, yet we're just...not special enough. So...what's up with that?

What I really wanted to add (in italics because I didn't say it) was that only supporting people who come to Taiwan fully formed in their careers and life paths to become dual nationals is not a good economic or soft power strategy for Taiwan. Salaries, opportunities and working conditions/culture in Taiwan are not appealing enough to attract enough of such people to have an impact on the country.

What's more, when they do come, they're more likely to have been sent here by employers (rather than actively choosing Taiwan). This means they're both more likely to leave within a few years, and live in an expat bubble rather than seek to get to know and contribute to Taiwan. They probably aren't going to spend their time spreading Taiwan's soft power message. We are - the real drivers here are those who may be searching for what they ultimately want to do, and choose to spend part of that search in Taiwan. The best among us come to love Taiwan, we learn about it, we seek to understand and contribute - and we do. We decide to go to back to school, to enter a profession, to open a business, to be activists. We grow and mature. Often, we stay - some permanently.

When we visit our countries of origin, we tell our stories. We're the ones who convince friends and family abroad that Taiwan matters. We became who we are in Taiwan, and we remember that and pay it back.

We - moreso than the "special professionals" - are the real soft power. So when the government supports them, but not us, they are ignoring the true contributors to Taiwan. The government seems to have identified which kinds of immigrants it wants - I say the government is wrong.


Freddy started out by answering my second question, saying that he was aware that there are a lot of foreigners in Taiwan who want more rights, but he had to be honest that this had been discussed in the Legislative Yuan, yet the debate had been quite conservative - that it's not that people hate the foreigners who are here, or hate Southeast Asians but think white people are OK - but that it's really hard to push Taiwan to change into this sort of society (where we might assimilate more) due to continued government conservatism. The government might still think some of us are drug traffickers, liars, criminals - whether we're white or Southeast Asian. He admitted that was a strange way of thinking, but that's what a lot of people still think. Yet, there's a chance things could change quickly. Five years ago, nobody expected LGBTQ rights would be the major social issue in Taiwan that it is now, and he has great hope for the young generation who don't think as conservatively as those in power now.

I had a little more trouble understanding his answer to the first query, and I'm not sure he fully remembered what I'd asked - he answered it as though I had talked about how other democratic countries would care about Taiwan because they support us as a fellow democracy, and that things didn't quite work that way. I didn't reference international students, doing business etc., so the answer also felt a bit canned. As I don't feel he really addressed the question about soft power that I did ask, I may try to parse his answer in a subsequent post, but I'll leave this here for now.

This ties into something I've been thinking for awhile - that while it is important to raise salaries and improve job opportunities for both locals and foreigners in Taiwan (though I'd say the local situation is quite a bit more severe and needs far more immediate action), that most of us foreigners who do stick around and try to contribute - those who come here young and dumb and perhaps study Mandarin or teach English in some third-rate buxiban for a time before finding our way to something better - aren't just here for money. If that's all we cared about, we'd be in some other country (more or less any other developed country).

But that's for the next post...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

No, immigrants are not the key to the labor shortage

Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with Lao Ren Cha or me personally knows that I am staunchly pro-immigration. It's one of the very few beliefs I actually share with libertarians. I do believe relaxing immigration requirements - not only in terms of naturalization but in terms of the laws that regulate us once we arrive - will be to Taiwan's benefit, not just my own. We contribute to the economy and deserve commensurate rights under a fair-minded policy, and those of us who wish to remain permanently deserve better tools to be able to do so, because we are generally good for Taiwan.

However, I have to say, I'm a bit sick of people referring to a sickly cousin of this argument as a defense of immigration reform: that it will "help reverse brain drain" or that it is "the key to the labor shortage" - that, in order to stem the dual problems of Taiwanese talent moving abroad and a cratering birth rate, we need more immigrants. Despite immigration, in my view, generally being a good thing.

In his recent statements, Premier William Lai was not entirely wrong - we cannot discuss how Taiwan will keep pace in a (so sorry for the lame cliche) "globalized world" (barf) without discussing immigration (link above):

“It is impossible to talk about talent recruitment without touching upon immigration policy,” Lai said, adding that the Cabinet would discuss how to create a friendly immigration environment before revealing its new policy.


However, he is doing more harm than good in referring to us as the key to bolstering the labor shortage:

Lai made the remarks in the last of five news conferences held this week to address the nation’s “five industrial shortages” — land, water, electricity, talent and workers.

No.

First of all, Mr. Lai, do you know what kind of damage you are doing when you revise the new labor regulations in a way that hurts workers on one day, and quite literally on the very next day you talk about attracting immigrants? What kind of message do you think you're sending?

Since perhaps you are not aware, Dear Willy, I will tell you:

You are sending the message that you don't care about Taiwanese labor - that you do not care about the average voters, that you do not care about your own people - because you intend to replace them with immigrants anyway. This does not help. This only lends credence to the notion that the government not only isn't concerned about plummeting wages as a result of ostensibly "cheaper" immigrant labor, but that they are depending on it. It only renders true the recent criticism that the current DPP-led government not only doesn't care about Taiwanese workers and doesn't think they are strictly necessary, but that they likely never did.

You are essentially saying that it is acceptable to crap all over Taiwanese labor rights, because it doesn't matter - you can always get some foreigners in here to do the work.

That not only hurts you, Willz, it also hurts us. It makes us look like the bad guys, which we never wanted to be. We just wanted to build lives here while also being a positive force that contributed to Taiwan. We never wanted to be fingered as replacements for Taiwanese labor, nor the reason why it was deemed acceptable to further worsen an already problematic set of new labor laws.

Stop it, WillWill. Just stop. No.

In fact, as wrong as New Bloom was regarding immigration regulations in other countries, they are right about the disastrous effect the DPP's  changes are going to have not only on Taiwanese labor and the brain drain, but to their own popularity. They are going to pay for this, and you know what? They should.

The solution to Taiwan's labor shortage is simple. Four words.

Treat your workers right. 

In fact, I have a problem with the whole "brain drain" debate. I'm a bit sick of people like me - "foreign talent" - being touted as a "solution". Not just today, from the mouth of Billy Lai here, but generally.

I'm not sure why more people are not saying this, because it's bleedin' obvious to me - the solution to Taiwan's brain drain is for Taiwanese employers to treat their workers like human fucking beings.

Pay them a fair wage - a wage on par with what they can earn in other countries at a similar level of development (and some that aren't, like China). Then the most talented among them won't feel the need to go abroad to seek work. Paying them more further makes it easier for them to start families, which will help slow or reverse the declining birth rate. Considering that Hsinchu County has a high birthrate (a student once told me it was the highest) in the country and is an affordable place to live while still having a number of professional jobs thanks to the tech sector, it is clear that given a reasonable income vis-a-vis expenses, that Taiwanese want, and will have, children. Save a number of women who have figured out quite rightly that traditional family roles in Taiwan don't offer them a particularly good deal in life and have therefore decided to remain child-free, if they're not having kids it's not because they've lost interest - it's because they feel they can't afford them. Pay them more and watch that magically change! WOW!

I'm a regular magician, I know.

Give them reasonable working hours. Quit it with handing them work in the late afternoon and then promoting a corporate culture where they feel pressured to stay late to finish what they've just been given. Quit it with the hiring of one person to shoulder a workload best split between two or three people - seriously, stop that. You're not helping yourself or anyone. Tired workers are not innovative, efficient or productive workers. Give them reasonable paid vacation and let them leave at a reasonable time (5 or 6 - with overtime being a rarity asked for and paid for accordingly when an issue is truly urgent - and no I don't mean like now where every issue is urgent, because they're not and you know it - and a full 2-day weekend, even if it doesn't always fall on traditional weekend days).

If they have more free time not only are they better workers - win for you! - but also they have more time to get busy, which means more kids.

Give them room for growth. Stop pushing them down and then wondering why they're not happy with it.

Stop being dicks to them - stop it with the nonsensical orders, the immature management, the babying, the corrupt practices, the passive-aggressiveness and the lying. Not every boss is like this, but for those you are - we see through you. The average Taiwanese employee is no idiot, and knows your stupid game. Why do you think they want to leave? Why do you think they aren't having kids, when they're too tired to do the horizontal tango and too broke to feel they can give their would-be kids a good life?

Basically, treat them well. 

Honestly, most talented Taiwanese who leave probably would have preferred to stay, bar a few adventurous types who just want to see the world (fair - I'm like that too). Taiwan is a great place to live. It's a developed country. It's friendly and fairly safe. It's their home, and enjoys a high standard of living and relaxed lifestyle. Few would leave if they felt they got a fair shake here. Some might start their own businesses, but many would work for you, and you'd be better for it.

So stop saying people like me - or workers from South and Southeast Asia - are the "solution" to this problem. We can and do contribute to Taiwan, and many of us do want to stay. The smarter ones among us support immigration reform, but make no mistake - we are not your easy answer.

The solution is and always was to treat your Taiwanese workers better.

Protect this with robust labor laws, and engender it with moves toward a deeper culture shift in which the crap doesn't sluice from the big roosters top through cages stacked like a chicken coop to the workers clucking below.

Treat. Your. Workers. Better.

Stop using us as an excuse. Engage with us for what we can contribute, not as a way to avoid improving local conditions. By touting us as the solution we never wanted to be to a problem you helped create, you hurt us, you hurt Taiwanese workers and you -William Lai and the entire Tsai administration - hurt yourselves. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

So are we Garbage Foreigners or not?

IMG_8178
Yeah, Taiwanese government. Don't just throw us anywhere. God is watching. 

A few days ago, the Legislative Yuan passed the Act Governing Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals (外國專業人才延攬及雇用法), something the long-term expat community has been talking about for awhile. In theory, the Act gives out lots of benefits to all foreign professionals. In practice, who gets what is less clear.

I'm only writing about it now because it became clear early on that news coverage of its passage was perhaps a more interesting angle to consider than simply providing another analysis of the act itself.

I'll start with the one article I have little criticism of: a News Lens piece on the limbo many foreign artists in Taiwan find themselves in, as the visa laws don't appropriately cover them. This piece correctly notes that the new law makes it easier to apply for a visa independently - as most foreign artists do not have a single employer and may not have an "employer" at all - and also that the new regulations may not include those who arrive for the purposes of unpaid art exchanges.

I'll also get this point out of the way: this Act covers foreign professionals, who are a minority of all foreigners in Taiwan. The majority are migrant workers - mostly laborers from Southeast Asia - will not see any change or any respite in their uphill battle for fairer immigration policy and more protections guaranteeing better treatment while they are here. This is not right.

Regarding all other issues, for those who are interested, you can read an English version of the full Act here (Google Drive), and a Chinese version here (the English version should also be available for download on that site). I do recommend that you do so.

Notably, the Act continues the tendency to differentiate foreign professionals into Foreign Special Professionals (special Lords and Ladies "who possess special expertise needed by the State in science and technology, the economy, education, the arts, sports and other fields "as announced by the relevant central competent authority" which means little except that the government has to designate you as such - this seems to mostly cover old missionaries), Foreign Senior Professionals ("senior professionals needed by the State...as specified in the Immigration Act") and Foreign Professionals (or, essentially, Garbage Foreigners - good enough to get a professional visa to come here, but not good enough to qualify for any other benefits fair-minded immigration policy because they are not really wanted or not really considered 'professionals' despite the visa). Don't think I'm dumping on Garbage Foreigners - despite all of my relevant qualifications, experience and expertise, I am one too.

However, it is not clear to what extent the differentiation will matter in implementation. This is where the coverage of the Act's passage becomes relevant. If you read the Act itself, most of the benefits will be applicable to all classes of foreign professionals - different articles cover each class, but all are covered in most cases.

What this means is that permanent residents like Brendan and I will be eligible for the labor pension scheme, and should I get a university job I'll be eligible for that pension scheme just as a local would. This is brilliant, and something sorely needed. The money isn't much, but it's something, and it's simply the fair and right thing to do.

The Act also stipulates that dependents of permanent residents will be able to apply for permanent residence as well. This is great news for a few friends of mine, notably at least one whose spouse would benefit greatly from being able to apply for permanent residence. This doesn't affect me as I have no dependents and Brendan is now officially a permanent resident as well, but it does affect people I know and care about.

However, the News Lens article on the Act terrified a number of us in the foreign community, noting:

As for “senior” professionals, or those whose spouses, minor children and disabled children may apply for permanent residency along with the worker, not to mention qualify for certain tax benefits, they are likely to be defined as those with a minimum monthly salary of at least NT$160,000 (US$5,300). Again, regulations and letters of interpretation will be issued to defined this as part of the Executive Yuan’s implementation phase.



This language is not in the Act itself, which only refers to "foreign professionals" (as well as Foreign Special Professionals and Foreign Senior Professionals). It caused quite a stir, and even led to accusations of inaccurate or lazy reporting and "spreading false information", but if you read that paragraph carefully, it is clearly speculation regarding how the Act will be implemented. 
The Act's language does differ between Foreign Special Professionals and the rest of us trash, where our dependents have a 5-year residency requirement that is not present in the article pertaining to Foreign Special Professionals. This has led some people to believe that for we regular trashcan dwellers, dependents must wait an additional five years to be covered. However, it's not clear that those five years must take place after the original applicant receives their APRC. It could well be that dependents of Better Superior Super Awesome foreigners can apply even if they don't have 5 years' residency (say, if they joined the working parent/spouse later), whereas we regular roaches don't get this benefit. I'm going to look for clarification on this.

That said, we should all be on guard regarding implementation, as it is possible for extra layers of regulation and further requirements to qualify may be added at that time. 

In fact, I reached out to the News Lens for clarification on where speculation that this requirement would be added came from, and received a timely and useful reply (thanks, News Lens!). The speculative ideas here came from this source.

I suspect, reading through that source, that it's not that those eligible to have their dependents apply for APRCs that will be constrained by the $160,000NT/month income requirement, but merely one definition of what constitutes a "foreign special professional". 

As dependents of foreign professionals (not just Foreign Special Professional Wonderful Lords and Ladies) will be allowed to apply for APRCs, what is defined as a "foreign special professional" doesn't seem to actually apply for this specific purpose. 

So, for now, we can relax. 

It is very important that we stay on our guard to ensure that requirements for dependent APRCs are not regulated to only apply to some foreigners for one simple reason - and I am highlighting this paragraph because it is probably the most important thing I'll say in the entire post: 

It is not fair to discriminate against the children and spouses of some long-term professionals simply because the breadwinner who holds the visa allowing them all to stay is not the "right kind" of foreigner. It is not right to tell the children of comfortable or moderately prosperous foreign teachers that, because their mother or father is not rich enough, or because he or she is a teacher rather than, say, an engineer, that they do not deserve permanent residency in the only country they have ever known or called home. "Sorry kids, I know you were born and raised here and one of your native languages is Mandarin, but your Mom went into the noble profession of education instead of being a highly-paid businessperson, so when you turn 20 you should GTFO and go live in a country you've only visited a few times and feel like a foreigner in!" goes against basic humanity as well as the civic values of what it means to be Taiwanese. 

This is not a threat yet, but it could become one in the implementation phase, and we cannot let that happen.

Another improvement will be the issuance of Gold Cards which wrap a work permit, residence visa, residence permit and re-entry permit (which is odd - your residence permit
is your re-entry permit now so what's the change?) into one, and ensure that you hold your own work permit rather than it being dependent on your employer. 

This would be wonderful, as one major issue foreigners in Taiwan face is that, if they are in a dire or problematic employment situation, it is difficult to change jobs as a malicious employer may attempt to cancel your visa and work permit before you can find another job. Even if you do find another job, some malicious employers cancel your visa/work permit a bit too early before the switch can be processed. I have known more than one person facing this issue, and it has affected how long they'd had to wait for permanent residency. 

Focus Taiwan reports this in a very unclear way, making it sound as though everyone qualifies for Gold Cards (New Bloom makes the same mistake). In fact, only Foreign Special Professional Wonderful Lords and Ladies qualify, not Garbage Foreigners. 

That is to say, most people - we normal plebes - who are likely to find themselves in a bad employment situation will actually not be able to get out of it more easily, because they won't qualify for being treated with basic humanity. 

Another point that has been met which is universally good news is that children born to foreign professionals in Taiwan will no longer have a 6-month gap between birth and when they are eligible for enrollment in National Health Insurance. This is a deeply-important and much needed change, as there have been several cases of new parents, who happened to be foreigners, seeing their financial wellbeing destroyed by spiraling medical costs in the case of medical complications after the birth of their children.

Yet another provision that benefits me is the revocation of the 183 day/year residency requirement to maintain my permanent residence. As readers know, I spent almost half a year in the US in 2015 to attend to family matters after the passing of my mother in late 2014. I filed a petition to leave for a longer period with Immigration before leaving (and such petitions are nearly universally accepted), and squeaked back in under the 183-day limit regardless, but it is conceivable that such a situation will arise again. From personal experience, I know this requirement can be hard to meet. 

Other issues remain unaddressed, however, which few news outlets are reporting. I'm not as concerned about the internship eligibility being cut, though perhaps that's because I'm not a fan of internships generally. I consider them to be at best a problematic institution and at worst exploitative, almost parasitic ("you need us for experience but we're not going to make it possible for you to eat or pay rent"). 

However, I know a few foreigners born and raised in Taiwan who are well over the age of 20, and therefore will not be eligible to apply for permanent residency under this Act. All this group of foreign residents - for whom Taiwan truly is not only home but also their native land and culture - is asking for as we wait for dual nationality laws to be relaxed is to be given permanent residence on the basis of their having lived here, in some cases, all their lives. And yet, because they were born too early, they're still in limbo. 

Another problem is that, for many foreigners, the requirement of "two years' relevant experience or a Master's in any field" to work in any job other than English teaching is onerous. Some may have, say, a year and 8 months' experience (do those extra few months really matter?), some may want to change fields, some may have an extremely relevant Bachelor's, some may have trouble documenting their experience - having worked freelance, or for an employer that will not provide them with the relevant documents, and some may be in industries where experience is not as quantifiable, such as the arts. I know of at least one case where a young man would have preferred to stay in Taiwan after earning a Bachelor's degree, and who had spent much of his childhood in Taiwan, but could not get any non-teaching job (and he didn't want to teach). He went to Japan. I know of another who had nearly, but not quite, 2 years' experience and had been in Taiwan for over 5 years. However, some of that time was spent as a student, which does not count towards permanent residency, and there had been a break regardless (to finish school and care for a sick relative). There is no reason why that should have held her back from finding non-teaching work. 

This is one area where I further disagree with New Bloom (linked above). We agree that immigration controls around the world can be barbarous, acting as unnecessary controls on people rather than in the interests of a country. They note rightly that immigration policies around the world are strict, and Taiwan is no exception.

However, they provide evidence for that claim in all the wrong ways. Unlike countries with stricter immigration policies, Taiwan
wants to attract foreign talent. The strategy, therefore, should not be to mimic other countries who want to tighten controls. 

In fact, New Bloom fails to point out the real difference between Taiwan and many of our countries of origin. It is difficult to immigrate or work in North America, Australia and much of Europe. This much is true. In fact, it's quite easy in contrast to come and work in Taiwan. Even if one is only qualified to teach, they only have to stick around doing that for five years before qualifying for an APRC, which allows them to take any job. That's not bad, considering how many immigrants to the West give up whatever career they had in their native countries permanently, often working lower-skilled jobs in the hope that growing up in the West will benefit their children.

However, once in those Western countries legally,
it is fairly easy to stay. There are paths to naturalization that are viable, and even permanent residents/green card holders enjoy benefits we permanent residents in Taiwan do not. They are also not discriminated against in business the way we are: many obtain mortgages and credit lines, for example, which remains a pipe dream for many long-term residents in Taiwan (although the credit card situation appears to be improving).

It is simply not enough to say "well the requirements in your countries of origin are also strict!" It's more complicated than that. 

In fact, I'd say that compared to the rest of the world it's not only easy to come here for work - as mentioned above - but fairly easy to obtain permanent residence. The bar is high, and a problem for some deserving people, but it is not impassable for most foreign professionals. However, as I've written, in Taiwan permanent residency is not enough to actually stay permanently unless one is married to a Taiwanese citizen (which clears up all or most of the hurdles surrounding credit lines and obtaining a mortgage). 

Related to this but not specifically in reaction to the New Bloom piece, while it is true that around the world countries want to attract certain types of professionals, I am generally against a policy of differentiation of professional work. 

Barring some exceptional cases, most immigrants contribute to the country they settle in, and generally speaking the numbers that come in are more or less in line with the numbers the economy can handle. The reason why is simple: we don't move abroad in a vacuum. We research, read ahead, ask questions and talk to people already in the country we are considering moving to. If all signs point to "it will be hard to find a job and wages and benefits are stagnant because the market is saturated or the jobs simply not that good", that will reduce the number of people coming in as they'll decide to go elsewhere in search of better opportunities. When the market is robust and competitive, more will come, just as it should be. 

This is true for Garbage Foreigners as well as Special Outstanding Wonderful Foreign Lords and Ladies. You aren't going to get the Special Wonderful Foreign Lords and Ladies if your market isn't enticing, no matter how lenient your immigration policy is. And, I've gotta say, I love you Taiwan but the market is not enticing. Frankly, it's not even enticing for foreign teachers. Those of us who stay do so because we care about Taiwan, not because we think remuneration is superb. 

Aww, look at me, sounding like a Running Dog Capitalist! 

If anything, in the case of us Garbage Foreigners, making it easier to move here as a teacher will entice better teachers to come here - people with real qualifications and experience, not just new graduates who have never been in a classroom nor have been trained to teach. This can only improve the country. Some are likely to work in cram schools, raising the level of education at those institutions - working in a university or public school doesn't suit everyone (I could work in a public school, for example, but choose not to).

I have talked to more than one qualified and talented teacher who has either chosen not to come here or not to stay because the labor and immigration laws are not enticing enough to better teachers. 

In any case, a second reason not to discriminate in this way is that most of the benefits in the Act won't apply to the vast majority of incoming foreigners. Most of the benefits accrue to permanent residents (that is, long-termers like me), and the vast majority of foreign professionals who come to Taiwan do not stay that long, or are not intending to stay permanently or semi-permanently, and as such won't qualify. The number of foreign professionals - from Garbage to Special - who will qualify is not only small, it encompasses people who are already here. Nothing will change for Taiwan except that its long-term foreign residents will get a fairer shake. Why is that a bad thing? There is no good reason to tell them they aren't good enough or wanted enough. 

Yes, these provisions will affect new arrivals who, in the future, may decide to put down roots in Taiwan. However, given past numbers (I doubt the total number of permanent residents is above four figures), the impact will not be large. Most Garbage Foreigners - again, the category I fall into - plan to leave within a few years, not to make Taiwan their home. We aren't going to see a massive influx of unwanted filthy stinky buxiban teachers just because permanent residents get a few more much-needed benefits. In any case, 
the contributions these someday-long-termers make will far outstrip the benefits they are offered, and by the time they are eligible they have been already here for some time. 

That the Act felt the need to discuss at length the "limited" need for such Garbage Foreigners is telling and sad. Thanks, Taiwan. Good to know that you had to put into writing exactly how much people like me are not valued.

Finally, as this is an ancillary issue to discussion of the newly-passed Act, New Bloom also gets this wrong:


What leads many to react strongly against and sometimes deem Taiwan a “xenophobic” country is the lack of adequate provisions for obtaining Taiwanese citizenship, in which Taiwanese citizens may be allowed to hold multiple citizenships without being made to give up their original Taiwanese citizenship, but foreigners would have to give up their original citizenship before applying for Taiwanese citizenship, leaving the possibility open that they may become stateless. But, again, although this is a serious fault of the Taiwanese system, this is not exceptional in Asia, in which a high barrier for obtaining citizenship has not been overcome.



In fact, Taiwan's case is exceptional in Asia for a few reasons.

The first is that, again, unlike other Asian countries, Taiwan looks more favorably on diversity. Not everyone has hopped on the internationalization train, but generally speaking Taiwan is not as xenophobic as China, Japan or Korea, especially when it comes to long-term foreign residents. I doubt the majority of Chinese, Japanese or Koreans would support allowing many foreigners to become citizens at all, dual nationality aside. Taiwan is different. A few ethnic chauvinists still exist, but nobody I've talked to - and I've talked to hundreds of people about this issue - is against foreign long-term residents becoming citizens. For many, to be Taiwanese is to participate in a shared civic nationalism, not to be of the same blood as the rest of an ethnic state.

Try playing that card in Japan or Korea (or even China, despite its ethnic diversity - well, China's rhetoric just doesn't make sense in this regard) - good luck. You won't find much support.

Secondly, and I cannot stress this enough, Taiwan is exceptional because unlike other Asian countries, there is a massive double standard regarding who can have dual nationality.

China and Japan, in contrast, do not allow dual nationality even for their born citizens. If a foreigner wants to be Japanese or Chinese (although why someone would want Chinese nationality if they weren't born with it is beyond me), they must give up their original nationality. However, the same is true if a Chinese or Japanese person wants to obtain a second nationality. In fact, in one memorable case, noted author Guo Xiaolu obtained British nationality not realizing this law, and had her Chinese passport cut up by a consular official:



“Do you have a Chinese passport?” She stared at me with a cold, calm intensity, clutching my British passport.
I took out my Chinese passport and handed it to her through the narrow window.
She flipped through its pages. The way she handled it gave me a sudden stomach ache. I sensed something bad was coming.
“You know it’s illegal to possess two passports as a Chinese citizen?” she remarked in her even-toned, slightly jarring voice.
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“Illegal?” I repeated. My surprise was totally genuine. It had never occurred to me that having two passports was against Chinese law.
The woman glanced at me from the corner of her eye. I couldn’t help but feel the judgment she had formed of me: a criminal! No, worse than that, I was a Chinese criminal who had muddied her own Chinese citizenship with that of a small, foreign state. And to top it all, I was ignorant of the laws of my own country.
She then flipped through my visa application, which was attached to my British passport, and announced: “Since this is the first time you are using your western passport, we will only issue you a two-week visa for China.”
“What?” I was speechless. I had applied for a six-month family visit visa. Before I could even argue, I saw her take out a large pair of scissors and decisively cut the corner off my Chinese passport. She then threw it back out at me. It landed before me on the counter, disfigured and invalid.

South Korea is a murkier situation. Dual nationality is now allowed for Koreans as well as foreign long-term residents, but who is eligible for it is unclear (I'll have to do more research on this). From the second link:


By submitting the same type of pledge, certain groups of foreign nationals may also acquire Korean citizenship while maintaining their original one. The groups include marriage migrants, foreigners of outstanding talent who are naturalized as Koreans, and those who have their Korean citizenship reinstated by meeting certain qualifications. (Nationality Act, Act No. 8892 (Mar. 14, 2008), last amended by Act No. 10275 (May 4, 2010).


If this means what I suspect - that general naturalization in Korea is similarly restricted to Foreign Special Wonderful Lords and Ladies as it is in Taiwan, and closed to Garbage Foreigners - this still, however, makes Korea and Taiwan the exceptions, not the rule.

In fact, regarding Taiwan, let's call it a triple standard.

If you are born Taiwanese, you can have dual nationality or even multiple nationalities.

If you are the descendants of Overseas Chinese (I'm not sure how specific the requirements are, but certainly if your ancestors were a part of the 1945-1949 Nationalist diaspora), you can have dual nationality, even if your ancestors never set foot in Taiwan. They will give you Taiwanese nationality and let you keep your original nationality. I know more than one person who has successfully done this.

That is to say, the requirements are not merely related to blood. It's pure, clear ethnic chauvinism. It's racism. Your ancestors do not have to be Taiwanese, they merely need the correct ethnic and political pedigree.

If you are a foreigner - just like me! - but your ancestors were Taiwanese, you can be a dual national.

If your grandfather spent a short amount of time residing in Taiwan and you're a really good soccer player, you can be a dual national. Ugh.

But if you have the wrong color skin and the wrong-shaped face, you are a Garbage Foreigner who does not qualify. You must renounce, you stinking piece of crap. Never forget that you are not wanted.

This is true even if you were born and raised here. Someone whose ancestors never came to Taiwan but have the desired political history can be a dual national, but someone who is actually Taiwanese by virtue of growing up here immersed in the culture is not.

This is not true for other Asian countries. Their laws are harsh, but at least they apply fairly to everyone. I don't want such harsh requirements in Taiwan, but I do want fairer immigration policy.

I wish New Bloom had covered the issue in this level of nuance - I generally like their local coverage, especially of student and social movements. Unfortunately, the editorializing here misses the mark and is deeply misleading.

In any case, this is not the main issue - it just happens to be related to the question posed by both the ongoing fight for dual nationality - but both this issue and the passage of the Act Governing Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals lead us back to the same question: 
Are we Garbage Foreigners or not? Does Taiwan want us or not? (Hell, does Taiwan understand basic economics or not?)

The new Act seems to point toward a general opening up of how welcoming Taiwan is to its long-term foreign residents, at least the professional class (which is, of course, not enough as most foreigners are not "professionals"). However, continued differentiation of who is an Amazing Perfect Special Outstanding Foreign Professional Demigod and who is a Big-Nose Trash Monkey "Professional", and continued battles to include all foreigners - including non-professional laborers - who want to put down roots in Taiwan still make me wonder.

Are we valued, Taiwan? Am I valued?

I don't know, and your message is more than a little muddled.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Our Own Worst Enemies

As the fight for the opportunity to apply for dual nationality for all foreign professionals (and I hope someday all foreigners, including laborers) grinds on, I've noticed something about the pushback against this goal, who is against it, and why.

I started caring about dual nationality when I came to the realization that I wanted Taiwan to be my permanent home rather than a place I called home for a portion of my life before eventually leaving to live elsewhere. This happened soon after receiving permanent residency and realizing that, despite the word "permanent" in the name, that it would not be sufficient to make it possible for me to actually remain in Taiwan. I've gone over the reasons before here: the one-sentence summary is that retiring and living out my days in Taiwan will not be possible without the ability to buy an apartment, access to a pension system and ability to build a credit history. I can't do any of these things - either legally or simply because foreigners are discriminated against - with permanent residency alone.

When I began talking about this issue, I expected disagreement from locals. After all, it's their country and I moved here as an adult. It's to be expected that some Taiwanese will have a vision for their country that does not include our truly living here permanently, or that despite the fact that Taiwan is not the monoculture that people often think it is, that they might not want a more diverse or multicultural society. While I disagree with this, it is a possible viewpoint, and people are entitled to have opinions regarding what they want their country to be like even if I disagree - and even if their perspectives, if implemented, would hurt me directly. Most of my supporting points to my dual nationality argument addressed this assumed opponent: that Taiwan is already diverse (with data to prove this), that those who would seek to attain dual nationality would be fairly small in number and the vast majority are already here, so it wouldn't really change much in terms of the makeup of the Taiwanese citizenry but would be life-changing for us, that sort of thing.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that, on the contrary, Taiwanese people seem to generally have no problem with the idea of dual nationality for foreigners like me (a lot of the latent anti-foreigner sentiment is aimed at Southeast Asian migrant workers, however, and I do not mean to excuse this). In fact, most people I've talked to had assumed it was already possible, and the reason that so few foreigners had dual nationality was because we hadn't applied, not that it was impossible. Although I'm sure the local opponents in my mind's eye exist, I have yet to meet them. Even within the government, the main issues seem to be a lack of prioritizing this issue coupled with fear of the unknown, not open opposition to the idea of dual nationals who do not have some sort of "Chinese" origin.

Instead, I have been shocked to learn that the most vocal opponents of dual nationality are other foreigners. 

I still struggle to understand why. It often comes across as long-termers crapping on other long-termers out of some sense of assumed superiority. I can't think of a reasonable reason why I have never met a Taiwanese person who opposes dual nationality - and I have talked about this with people across the political spectrum, from deep blue KMT to Hoklo nationalist to moderate to Sunflower - and yet have come across so many foreigners in Taiwan who do.

All I can say is that this attitude hurts all foreigners in Taiwan, hinders our progress, and shows a lack of understanding of how this issue is viewed locally, and hinders what sort of local assimilation is possible (although I do agree that total, perfect assimilation is not possible at this time - there are still a lot of assumptions about what a Taiwanese person looks like for that to happen right now).

With this in mind, here are a few of the points I've heard these anti-dual-nationality foreigners raise.

The most irritation iteration of this belief is the "superiority complex", that is, other foreigners in Taiwan who think that dual nationality is not necessary because we should be happy and willing to stay here and contribute as much as possible to Taiwan without asking for anything in return - and that to ask for immigration policy that matches the rules for born Taiwanese (who are allowed to hold dual nationality) is a selfish thing to do. I suspect people who hold this particular view see themselves as somehow selfless for putting up with a pointless and unnecessary double standard. That perhaps unrequited love for Taiwan - because Taiwan's immigration policies do not love us back - is somehow noble or right.

I reject this on its face: asking for fair-minded immigration policy in which both born and naturalized citizens have the same right to dual nationality is not selfish, it is asking simply for what is fair. It does not mean we don't want to contribute to Taiwan, or that we are here to mooch or that we want to get, get, get without giving. I don't think there is anything noble about accepting a system that discriminates against people like me. I don't believe in continuing unrequited love out of some sense of selflessness - that's just not what selflessness is - and I certainly don't believe in unconditional love. I am deeply uninterested in the "I'm A Better Selfless Foreigner" game.

This is also a strain of thought in which people who oppose something tend to think of those who want more rights, or fair rights, to be "entitled" (whereas they see themselves as "selflessly giving and working hard") rather than just normal people reasonably pointing out problems and unfair policies in a system created in China in the 1920s which does not suit 21st-century Taiwan. All I can say is that when I fight for fair immigration, I'm fighting for their rights too, not just my own.

There are also the Straw Man Foreigners, who seem to think that supporting dual nationality means supporting anyone who shows up at the airport immediately being able to apply for citizenship. This is an obvious straw man - nobody thinks that - so all I'll say is that the general consensus seems to be that eligibility should begin after one has had permanent residency for at least 5 years. That's a 10-year commitment to even apply, and that seems quite fair to me.

There are also those who defend unsupported ideas: for example, those who believe that opening up dual nationality would cause a flood of people to come to Taiwan, or who think they are defending Taiwanese people whom they believe generally do not want many naturalized dual nationals. I've already covered the latter issue: it is simply not the case that Taiwanese people are generally against dual nationality for naturalized citizens. They are defending a viewpoint that is in the minority, acting as stewards of "what Taiwanese think" without actually considering what Taiwanese think.

Regarding the former issue, there is little evidence to support this. There aren't even many permanent residency holders, and the eligibility for that has opened up considerably. It was easier for my husband to apply just recently than it was for me to apply in late 2011! There has not been a corresponding uptick in foreigners moving here - most who come do eventually plan to leave, and those who would apply for dual nationality are generally already here.

This group also tends to ignore the blatant double standard of allowing dual nationality for one type of citizen (those born here, and those of Taiwanese or Nationalist diaspora ancestry who want to come here) but not another (those not born here whose ancestors did not flee China in the 1940s). They ignore the fact that someone who has never set foot in Taiwan but whose grandparents fled China with the Nationalists to some other destination can very easily get Taiwanese nationality without giving up their original citizenship, but those of us who have lived here for years cannot. They also ignore that people who were actually born and raised here are still considered "foreigners" despite their having a stronger connection to Taiwan than many who do qualify for dual nationality.

And, of course, they ignore the fact that, if China were ever to annex Taiwan, that foreigners who have renounced their original nationality will essentially be stateless - there is no way that China would give them citizenship, not that they generally want it. Taiwanese would end up becoming Chinese citizens, which sucks, but is marginally better than being stateless. Those who think renunciation is reasonable generally fail to think through this potential - if unlikely - scenario.

There are also those who think that they understand the lives of those who want dual nationality enough to assume that permanent residency is sufficient for them (which I've covered above), or that renouncing their original nationality is not too much to ask. I've covered the latter in previous posts, but the short of it is that, beyond the potential for statelessness should China ever annex Taiwan, if I give up my original nationality I have no way to return to take care of family long-term - and work at the same time, which I would have to do because I am not wealthy - should the need arise, which it probably will. A subset of this group has either already renounced and therefore thinks everyone is equally able to do so, or renounced but reclaimed their original citizenship and doesn't care that not everyone can do that.

Related to this, there are those who think dual nationality is not deserved because we wouldn't "fight for Taiwan" should it become necessary (yes, this an actual 'argument' I've heard). Leaving aside all of the issues related to this - fitness and training to fight, for example - this is exactly backwards. I personally would want to fight for a country that would give me citizenship, but don't see why I should fight for one that won't, and I doubt Taiwan would even allow non-citizens to take up arms in wartime. I'd even argue that naturalized citizens would be more willing to stay and fight than some locals who, given the chance, would leave at the first bomb drop.

And, of course, there are those who think that only superhero-level foreigners should be granted dual nationality, as though nothing short of renouncing all worldly attachments and going to work in a village in the mountains (and conjuring up food and shelter with no money, apparently, because in this scenario the selfless hero doesn't need to work?) is good enough. This argument tends to deify missionaries - as though they do what they do out of pure selflessness rather than for their ultimate goal of winning more converts to their religion - and kick down those foreigners whom I think deserve dual nationality the most: the ones who were born and raised here. It prioritizes those with an institutional advantage - a large religious organization paying their bills - and closes the door to anyone who does not believe in religion.

It also dismisses the contributions of regular foreigners to Taiwan which are similar to those that Taiwanese citizens make, and spits on the value of work, even though regular work is a part of what helps an economy grow, and there should be no problem with being financially independent, supporting oneself, being a part of the economy and paying taxes.

Again, I'm not sure why thee anti-dual-nationality foreigners make these arguments, or how they can make them sincerely, but that they do so shows that we are our own worst enemy: the problem is not merely convincing Taiwanese that we are worthy. They seem to be mostly already convinced. It's not only getting the government to act - although that is also important - it's that some foreigners here want to hold others back for no reason - well, no good reason - that I can think of. I'm not interested in this whole "I'm a better foreigner because I don't want equal rights" or "they're better foreigners because the church pays for them to be up in the hills helping the poor whereas you pathetically have to work to earn money to live like a loser" or "you're so selfish and entitled for wanting a fairer system" game.

It is especially odd, seeing as they'd benefit from increased rights and fairer immigration policy too. If they didn't think it was important or didn't want or need it, fine, but then the sensible course of action is to not get involved. But to actively oppose people like you working towards something better? To want to continue the double standard? Why? I really don't get it.

I just hope we get what we want - fair-minded immigration policy - despite this inexplicable attitude from our own.

Fortunately, we don't need their support, and from my discussions with locals, we already have considerable local support.