Showing posts with label foreigners_in_Taiwan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label foreigners_in_Taiwan. Show all posts

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Schools in Taiwan bear more responsibility for racism and native speakerism than "market demand"

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There is no reason for these doors to be closed. 


When I first moved to Taiwan, I worked at one of the big chain cram schools. Every Friday, I had a class of rowdy upper elementary school kids. I wasn't very good at my job - frankly, I should not have even had that job - and they overwhelmed me. My co-teacher was an Indonesian woman who was simply amazing. Better than me, for sure. She probably still is, even though my teaching now would be unrecognizable to anyone who knew me then. The kids were awed by her; they listened to her. 

That school treated her well, though I will never know if we were paid equally (I can't be certain, but probably not). In the years after, I came to realize something: such respect is rare from schools in Taiwan, for both teachers of color and non-native speaker teachers.

These are two distinct groups - non-native speakers can be White, and native speakers are often not - but the way many schools in Taiwan think about both groups is rooted in White supremacy. Many will prioritize hiring, or only hire, White teachers. Others will hire only native speakers, but not native speakers of Asian heritage. Or they will define "native speaker" ridiculously narrowly - as though the term is possible to define at all.

Native speakerism is as wrong as racism in language teaching, an issue I've gone into before. The qualities of a good teacher include experience, quality training (which may not be the same as a certification, though some certifications are better than others), an appropriate level of English, the ability to plan and execute useful lessons well, preferably over the course of a complete syllabus, and who has good classroom management practices, and an open-minded, hardworking, growth-oriented mindset.

This is already well-known in Taiwan. However, when confronted with the issue, these schools will say it's "the market". "The market" demands native speakers. "The market" prefers White teachers. "The market" will take teachers who are not White, but no Asians. "The market" wants native speakers, but will take a European non-native speaker over a native-speaker teacher of Asian heritage.

The schools never examine their own role in how discriminatory the entire system is.


However, starting from that first year in Taiwan, it has become clear the market is not the main problem. Yes, one will meet racist or native speakerist parents and students; I don't deny they exist. But good teachers - wherever they come from and whatever language they learned first - tend to build strong relationships with their learners. Good teachers are usually successful in the classroom - even more so when the schools that hire them stand by them.

While some parents and students are unreasonable, for the most part, when asked to open their minds to a teacher who looks different or has a different accent to what they expected - they do.

The biggest problem, then, is likely the schools. Why do they insist that students and parents will only accept a certain type of teacher, when that's not necessarily the case?

For some, it's simply that they're businesses and don't prioritize education. As such, they're not willing to stand by quality teachers and take a leading role in changing the minds of the "clients" who do make racist or native speakerist demands.

For others, I suspect it's a manufactured preference: selling your "clientele" on the idea that White or 'native-speaker' teachers are somehow inherently superior, even though they aren't.

By the way, there's research to back this up, too.

You probably don't believe me yet, so instead of droning on about it, I'm going to turn my platform over to a group of teachers with varied stories, but who have all experienced some form of marginalization in English teaching in Taiwan. Note the key commonality: when their employers stood by them (and even sometimes when they didn't), these teachers all managed to build strong rapport with their learners, and in some cases the learners' parents. The so-called "market" was often open to instructors from a variety of backgrounds.

Let's start with T.'s story of a new colleague:


At the [school] a few years ago, they had a [private] practice of not considering Asian Americans for English teaching positions. Not that it was public. As the only female instructor, I felt it was essential to replace me with a woman, especially since three-quarters of our students were female: it's hard to prepare adult students to socialize in international settings without access to a female perspectives, experience, or role models.

I was disappointed--and incredulous--when someone told me, "no women have applied." Another employee showed me that several women had indeed applied, but that they had Asian names. I wrote an email to the entire office celebrating the fact that women had applied for the job and explaining why it was so important.
Because of the nature of the organization, and  Taiwan's constitution forbids racial discrimination, and because the director was a humane man, the administration took it seriously, interviewed Asian Americans/Canadians, and hired one.
Conventional belief had it that students would be dissatisfied with Asian-looking teachers, doubting the quality of their English. Instead, the new teacher was extremely popular with the students who valued her perspective of being of Asian descent in Canada and the U.S. The fact she looked Asian probably made it easier for our female students to imagine themselves navigating international business environments in English. So the belief that "customers" will be dissatisfied with teachers who are of Asian descent is outdated.
Even if it isn't, it's unethical and cowardly to give in to that as a business strategy--even when the problem is that parents of kids going to buxibans are unable to assess the authenticity of someone's English. Management needs to educate these "customers" and support their teachers, not cater to racism that sometimes exists primarily in their own imagination.
"Market demands." It seemed people were assuming they know what the "market demands," and were mistaken.
People will justify racist decision-making by saying they are doing it because someone else asked them to, as if they have no responsibility themselves for perpetuating racism when they enforce such "demands." It's not their own racism, it's someone else's that they are enforcing. It doesn't matter what they do or don't think if they enforce racist requests.


P. is from India, and holds a Master's in English Language and Literature. He's a native speaker just as much as I am; the only difference is the variety of English that he speaks.
Having completed by BA Honours in English Studies from a top university in India (2nd for Humanities and Social Sciences), I interned at a school through AIESEC in Taiwan in 2013. I was asked to teach some English lessons and share insight into Indian culture for a primary school in the outskirts of New Taipei City. It was a great experience and I got along really well with fellow colleagues and students overall. I was subject to occasional comments from students about how “black” my skin is and got questions asking me to clarify.
Wanting to pursue teaching in Taiwan, I started looking out for job opportunities. I was a young graduate, who was well travelled and spoke English as a first language – I thought the world was my oyster. I was reminded very quickly in all these ESL jobs forums on FB that I’m a “non-native” speaker of English, I have no knowledge of the “culture” to teach it and should go back to where I came from. These harsh attacks from both Taiwanese and White people in Taiwan.
I found myself a scholarship to do my MA in order to stay, and then looked for jobs. I was so disillusioned for 2 years. There were no opportunities. When some interviewers spoke to me on the phone, they would be so thrilled to hear about my qualification and experience. But when they saw me in person, they were surprised that I was not white. “We didn’t know you were black. Sorry we don’t hire black people.” 

The kind of racism I faced from White teachers was even more shocking. I expected them to be better allies, but they merely saw me a rat coming in to destroy the ESL market and reduce their wages. Even people I considered friends refused to let me help them cover their classes when they wanted time off – they too told me I was Indian and non-native so not good enough for the job.

I tutored math to a kid; I wanted to tutor the kid English instead, but they said I’m Indian so I should teach math, and they chose a white French woman with questionable English to teach him instead. Then I got an online teaching gig where I had to lie that I was Canadian or British. That was my entry point into teaching – I already had a student visa so they were happy to give me the job after a demo and a blatant lie about my father being a Western man. I did this for a few years.

After completing my MA, I started a PhD [but still had trouble finding a teaching job]. This gave me an entry point into universities as a lecturer. I must add that I only got this job because a White female friend left her post there and recommended me. I cried for hours wondering if it was real.

While students took some time to get used to me, we shared a really special bond every semester. They appreciated that I had a unique outlook to my teaching, brought creativity in the classroom, taught ESL through literature and had a more communicative approach in my teaching. Soon I found another part-time gig at another university. I was doing very well there too. I think I can say for sure that I was probably the only, if not the first, Indian to lecture at an English department in Taiwan. While this felt really amazing, it also came with its challenges. There was no scope for development, full time jobs at universities are non-existent, and no PhD means goodbye, eventually. They paid terrible wages for such a position.

This is why I eventually left Taiwan after 5 years. While I saw some success, the cost of it was much more than I could handle. Having moved to Vietnam, I make twice as much money, have professionally developed so much and work at an international organisation where my identity is seen as an asset rather than a liability or something to cover up.



R. is a teacher from Southeast Asia who speaks Mandarin, and whose English is indistinguishable from what some would define as a 'native speaker':
[I experienced discrimination at] one of those big high school chains. I had to take a test (which I aced) and an interview and the other two people they hired they literally just grabbed from the street because they look foreign. The job was to grade essays and we finished early. The two were allowed to leave early. I had to assist the front desk until my time was up. 

[In another job], I was told I spoke English too quickly at the interview. Then they went and called me a “bilingual” teacher and offered me 550 (with my 10+ years of experience) and said to my face that if a white person rolled in fresh out of college they would be offered 600. This was the moment I decided to stop speaking Chinese unless necessary. I made it my goal to be indistinguishable from a native speaker, a goal I reached maybe a decade ago. 

I don’t get repeat students too much because I teach mostly test prep so it’s usually one shot and done but I do get some students through word of mouth. And my business English students requested more classes when we were done with our first round.

Basically, the students I’ve had seem to like me. The problem is getting through the interview process because I’m often vetted for my ethnicity and passport.

C. has had issues with parents preferring White teachers, but once in a teaching position with school support, was able to be successful, showing that it is possible to fight the racism that exists in the market if schools would take a leading role:

I was born, grew up, and graduated university [in the USA]. I don't know how anyone could argue with me being American after that.

The first school I worked at I didn't know better, but I later found out that white teachers were often paired with a Taiwanese local teacher so that there were two adults to wrangle 30 students. Since I spoke Chinese I had to juggle my class on my own. I also discovered that the White teachers were paid an additional 20,000 NTD per month. I quit.

I worked at a language school as the administrative staff at [a well-known school for teaching foreigners Chinese]. Initially the school was hesitant to hire me because they said students wouldn't know who to go to if they had questions to ask in English. I suggested I should have a sign that read "English secretary". One more than one occasion the parents of a fellow overseas Chinese would come with the student to the office and demand to speak to the 'white lady' they'd spoken to on the phone. It sometimes would take me about 5 minutes to convince the parents that was me.

I have had parents and students quiz me about my English. One mother insisted my English wasn't adequate because she walked into the break room to see me eating a [typical local food] and a real native speaker of English would never eat that.

My current school generally doesn't print my last name on our public roster because of security reasons and because they've discovered my enrollment is higher when parents and students don't see the last name is [a common Chinese name]. My problem wasn't always hiring. My problem was staying the job, typically once the parents met their child's English teacher (me) and complained to the school about my Asian-ness.

Currently, I'm employed at [a language center at a major university] where my clients are the students themselves with minimal parental interference.

I got along great with my students. Currently I would say my students like me a lot too, I have several who have continued on with me for 4-5 years. It's a continuing education class so students can continue to enroll as long as they like.

In previous jobs my problem has been more parents, but it's also schools being too lazy to defend their teachers and just bowing to parental pressure. I mean, if a teacher (me) can help students score well on the TOEFL or win speech contests the school should go to bat for this teacher. Instead they let me go and hired a White teacher because that was the parental demand.


B. is a qualified non-native speaker who was denied opportunities as a non-native speaker, but whose nationality and first language were not an issue once hired:

I've faced this a couple times in person in my years in Taiwan. I'm from Mexico and that was enough to be denied opportunities.


My story is not particularly shocking or entertaining to retell, but living through it felt surreal. The contact person at one school (a private primary school, if memory serves me correctly) and I had exchanged a few emails, she had seen my CV, I went to the school for an interview, and she was very happy with our meeting. Everything pointed to me getting offered the job. Then she went away, left me in that office for a while and when she came back she said she could not offer me the job. I asked why and she matter-of-fact blamed it on my being Mexican. 

Alas, I couldn't get answers. It didn't matter when I pointed out my perfect [English proficiency test] score, my education at an international school, my experience teaching for many years, my teaching certifications - nothing mattered in the slightest. I was told one time at a teaching job interview, almost certainly at this one but I can't be sure, that it wasn't the hiring person's choice but the parents’.

I told her that her reason was insulting and absurd. She didn't budge. She didn't seem nervous or ashamed. Just matter-of-fact. This insensitivity was more than anything, what I found most confounding. I tried to keep my share of the dialog exchange short and calm to give her a chance to explain, to coax a better rationale, but I couldn't take the conversation anywhere. It was as if she simply couldn't muster enough empathy to stay present in our conversation.

I'd had many jobs before and since. I loved the two teaching jobs where I worked for the longest (at least six or seven years). I have experience teaching at all ages, kindergarten to high school, children and adult language centers, large class rosters and small, individual tutoring of children and adults, almost always English because that's where job offers are in constant supply, but occasionally was happy to accidentally land Spanish gigs too.

I first taught at that buxiban when I subbed for someone else. When they were ready to offer me a permanent part-time position they were unsure about my nationality. They asked me to take a test, perhaps it was the the GEPT, and when the perfect result came back they put aside all their concerns — if any customer ever asked they could proudly show them my score. So my nationality really was only ever an issue during job seeking.

Relationships with parents were rare but when they existed I always felt we had good rapport, and when we weren't in complete agreement about something it might be because they're surprised when I tell them their kid's participation in class is an asset. "my shy kid? That’s the first time I’ve heard that!" Perhaps people underestimate how different we can be in another language. I can't think of a single instance where a conflict with a student was at all related to my native-speaker status or nationality.

I tried hard to give them cross-cultural perspectives on linguistic prescriptivism, emphasizing that certain pronunciation of grammatical differences are normal for different communities, but I don't feel like they needed to listen to that from me in order to recognize that whatever linguistic differences were discernible in my own speech didn't take away at all from the quality of the education they were receiving.



S. is a Black American woman and talented teacher who has faced discrimination from "the market", but has been successful and popular with students when working in more professional settings:
I haven't worked at a school that was racist against me for the same reason I don't have friends who are white nationalists. They kinda already exclude me from their lives. [Years ago things were worse], but most schools that discriminate against black people nowadays tend to be [low quality] schools that are below my standards.

[In some cases] I lost performance points for things like "not smiling enough" and for losing students from a class where the parents were actually racist. [I know that because] they sat in the back of my classroom, chatting in Chinese so all the children could hear. They got pissed when I reminded them it was an English immersion classroom, even though I didn't comment on the fact that they were bitching about the Black teacher.

There were schools where kids came back to the school or skipped grades just to be in my classes, and where school owners put their kids specifically in my classes. There is optimism about good schools. But unfortunately it's not easy to find them - not unless you know what to look for.

And for non-white teachers - we don't have the freedom to walk into any job and play glorified babysitter while nursing a hangover like a white person can because those kinds of schools tend to be only about appearance over quality.

Fortunately, however, many of those schools closed down when parents and schools realized that schools that put effort into an effective English program were better than some place whose entire "curriculum" revolved around hitting flashcards with sticky balls and squeaky hammers.

As the quality and expectations of parents have risen, especially under the fact that parents now tend to only have one or two kids who they invest a lot of time and money into with the dropping birth rate, they are seeing through the façade of some unqualified dude who looks like he just stumbled in drunk from an all-night pool party (which more often than not was the case) to wanting to know the results and seeing more professionalism.

N. turned down a job with an online tutoring service because of their discrimination against others, a "business decision" that appears to have been made based on exactly zero market research:
I had a job interview for a curriculum director job. It was a tech company that was developing an online tutoring service. In the interview, I was told I would also have to find and hire teachers. The following conversation won't be 100% accurate, but it is a faithful representation of what happened. 

(Keep reading past the British bit. I'm including it because the racist bit appeared to be a lesser concern for them.)

“There is one problem, we can't use British teachers, only Americans.”
“Because of the accent?”
“Yes. We're launching this service in China, and they're not familiar with British accents.”
“OK, I understand that.”
“Oh, and we can't use Black people.”
“Sorry?”
“Yes. Because we're targeting second-tier cities in China, we're worried that people won't accept Black teachers.”
“Right, I can't do this job.”
“We know it's not...polite, but we have to do it.”
“It has nothing to do with being polite. This is wrong.”

I forget what I said, but I tried to explain why it's wrong. The interview ended.


The same company, but different person, contacted me last year to see if I could teach for them. I couldn't but asked about the policy. They said they had no idea what I was talking about, but more importantly, told me they hire people of all different races.


These stories all point to the need for schools to examine their own role in perpetuating racism and native speakerism in language teaching in Taiwan. The demand for White, native-speaker teachers exists, but it is not a given and is certainly not immutable. I do believe if these traits were to cease being advertised as some 'special' qualities of teachers in various schools, students would adapt.

If the focus were instead on hiring quality teachers, advertise that and stand by their staff, language education in Taiwan would improve overall. Market demand for White, native speaker teachers would reduce considerably. Schools could take a leading role in this change, and the success that good teachers who don't have the right 'look' or 'sound' have found in their roles shows that such a shift would be largely successful.

Instead of excusing away racism and native speakerism with "but it's the market", we should all call on schools to change the part they play in perpetuating these prejudices, and call on ourselves to be aware and reflective as well. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Foreign residents in Taiwan should get stimulus vouchers, too (and the government is specifically seeking to exclude blue collar foreign workers)

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I don't have a related picture so please enjoy this old gate

(Update) Thanks to a friend's helpful link, I'm able to include video evidence that not only do the stimulus vouchers not cover foreigners who aren't married to locals, but they specifically aimed to exclude foreign blue-collar workers (that is, the majority of the foreign community from Southeast Asia). It's in Mandarin, but watch at around the 1:04:25 mark, and you'll see that the reason given for not allowing all foreign taxpayers to get the vouchers is "因為我們有很多移工" - the rough but I think accurate translation being "because we have lots of migrant workers".

That's disgusting, and the government should honestly be ashamed. 


(Original post)

A few weeks ago, the government unveiled a plan to provide stimulus vouchers to jumpstart the economy as Taiwan copes (spectacularly well) with the CCP Virus. People with low incomes will be able to receive the vouchers free of charge, and wealthier citizens could pay NT$1000 for NT$3000 worth of vouchers. I'm not clear on the details, but there are also apparently specific voucher plans in the works for things like cultural activities, as well.

Here's the thing, as with the Ma-era stimulus plan in which citizens and those married to citizens received NT$3600 to bolster the economy, foreign residents with no local spouse are not eligible for any of these programs, either.

If you're wondering whether anyone's asked the government why they craft policies like this, the answer is yes. The response will sadden but not surprise you. From the link above:


When asked the reason for this policy, she [Su Wen-ling 蘇文玲 of the Ministry of Economic Affairs] said that the vouchers are "only meant for Taiwanese citizens," with the hope that they will spend more money on the economy.

This quite literally amounts to:

Q: "Why are foreign residents, who pay taxes just like Taiwanese citizens, not eligible for all of the benefits of those taxes?"

A: "Because they're not."



It was not only a bad answer, it was a non-answer, and Ms. Su should feel bad for giving it. She may as well have stuck out her tongue and blown a raspberry with lots of extra spit for emphasis.


The whole attitude is frankly ridiculous, for two reasons. I'll give you the less important one first: we pay taxes. It's also our tax money being spent on measures to improve the economy, and our money spent in Taiwan is just as good as the money spent by citizens.

If the purpose of this program is to help the economy, then more money being spent by more people is a good thing. You get less, uh, stimulation if you give out fewer vouchers, so why isn't every taxpayer eligible?

There's simply no reason to exclude us. Including all foreign residents (so that means not just the middle-class people like me, but also the far more sizable Southeast Asian workforce) wouldn't even amount to that much money when compared to the cost of the entire program. And, as any savvy business knows, giving out coupons entices most people to spend even more than they would have without the coupon. 


It's just bad policy, crafted for no reason, and "defended" with a joke of a non-answer.

That said, it's not like I need the stimulus money. I don't, and you probably don't either (though I suppose we could all benefit from it.) It's not really about the money - it's about being treated like a normal taxpayer, and about making better economic policy. Nobody's looking for a charity handout.

However, there's a more important reason why foreigners should be included.

Let me tell you about my community. We have a lot of elderly residents, which means there are a lot of care workers in the area, most of whom are from Indonesia and the Philippines. This means that my community has a higher-than-average concentration of shops that cater specifically to this community, at least by Taipei standards. here are three Indonesian markets within a 2-minute walk of my apartment.

They sell goods and provide shipping services that other foreign residents from Southeast Asia purchase and use (I also shop at these stores, both for ingredients and prepared food, which is generally excellent). I have never seen a Taiwanese person shopping in any of them - if any do, it's not common. 


What I'm trying to say is this: they are threads woven inextricably into the community life and economy of my neighborhood. They have value - providing needed goods, services and employment - and deserve the benefits of economic stimulus plans just as much as any other businesses frequented by Taiwanese.

But because the people who shop there won't get vouchers, and the people who get vouchers don't shop there, this entire sector of the economy will almost certainly see no benefit whatsoever. They bring so much value to this country, are owned by taxpayers and employ people who pay taxes, selling goods to people who pay taxes, but won't get the benefit of those taxes when the government feels the economy is lagging.

My neighborhood may be a little unique for Taipei, but the rest of Taiwan surely has areas where businesses such as these are a notable feature of the economy and streetscape.

I have to wonder, what other sectors of the economy that the folks at the Ministry of Economic Affairs have clearly not considered are going to be overlooked by this stimulus program?


I'm sorry, but that's not right, and someone really ought to tell Ms. Su and her colleagues, and demand a real answer. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

How to help Hong Kong refugees without calling them "refugees"

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Since the imposition of the National Security Law on Hong Kong and renewed protests in opposition to it, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding whether Taiwan is obligated to help Hong Kong (honestly - no), whether helping Hong Kong is the right thing to do (yes), and what exactly Taiwan can do to help.

Despite some Taiwanese saying that they need to prioritize the well-being of their own country rather than helping refugees - a false comparison, as any nation can do both - I do believe most want to help Hong Kongers fleeing their increasingly authoritarian city. How to do that, however, is not clear.

Measures are expected to be approved on Thursday (article in Cantonese, but there's a decent English rundown here) to help political asylum seekers. According to Radio Free Asia, this would include vetting both by Hong Kong and Taiwanese human rights lawyers at different stages of the process, help with housing, including centralized housing options, and financial and employment aid upon arrival. These measures are based on Article 18 of the Act Governing Relations Between Hong Kong and Macau, and would amend Article 25 of that same act, which concerns transportation of goods and people between Taiwan and Hong Kong/Macau.

There are many questions that still need to be addressed, however. Until very recently, the Taiwanese government was saying that Hong Kongers coming to Taiwan should not be considered "refugees" because the term was too 'emotionally sensitive' - I can't find a link right now but will source one soon.  Of course, the real reason is that considering Hong Kong's status vis-a-vis ROC and PRC laws, specifically designating Hong Kongers fleeing to Taiwan as "refugees" is very murky legal territory. As early as 10 days ago, the Tsai government was saying no new laws were needed, even though refugees and advocates say that current mechanisms are clearly insufficient

If the laws won't change, whatever happens on Thursday is not likely to open more pathways for Hong Kongers than the ones which already exist: work or study, which visas that not everyone can get; investment, which is really only for the wealthy; or throwing oneself into an ill-defined humanitarian legal system that is just being set up. 


Honestly, there is more we could do. Simply making it easier for Hong Kongers to get visas to come to Taiwan would be a start, as would prioritizing the opening of a 'travel bubble' of places that have handled coronavirus well, which would include Hong Kong. Having a wide array of visas to choose from would ensure more Hong Kongers might find a visa that applies to them.

Here are some ideas for visa classes that could be opened to Hong Kongers, if they don't exist already. Some have already suggested this, but the talent they seem keen on attracting is still far too narrow. Many of these are already available to people from some countries, though I'm not clear what the entry requirements are or if they are available to Hong Kongers. Changing the requirements or applicability of these visas wouldn't require new laws - existing ones could simply be amended.

Employment-seeking visas: give Hong Kongers who apply and pass a security check a visa with a generous time limit, during which they may seek employment, with few (if any) restrictions on what that employment is. Make it possible to convert this visa into a resident visa with a work permit in Taiwan. These could be broadly open to just about anyone. In addition, barriers to what sort of jobs and salary offers qualify one for employment should be relaxed - for everyone, not just Hong Kongers.


Entrepreneur visas: for Hong Kongers who have a bit more cash and could conceivably open their own small business. Make the requirements for this low - even a street stall or coffee kiosk would be sufficient.

Study and academic visas: offer a wider range of student visas, including a visa simply for signing up for classes at a language center. 


Artist visas: this class currently exists, but is extremely hard to get (I don't know anyone who has successfully obtained one). Make it easier to get, so that all you need to do is prove you've had some commercial success with your art - whether that's fine arts, getting DJ gigs, getting paid to write or design or sell your handmade goods...whatever.

Reduce requirements for work visas: end the salary and some of the educational requirements for obtaining a work visa for those who can get hired, so that the current requirements aren't overly onerous. As it is, most front-line protesters - that is, people most in need of a way out as they will absolutely be targeted - are young and probably don't meet the current requirements.

Certainly, financial, housing and legal assistance are also important.  By centering these, Taiwan is clearly expecting an influx of people arriving and sticking around without any legal status, and that's an important thing to consider. However, alongside these, more legal means to come to Taiwan need to be put in place. 


Just a few years ago, the media was focused on discussing "brain drain", especially from Taiwan to China.  This is just one of seemingly hundreds of articles dissecting the topic. If that really was an issue, and Taiwan has a talent and labor shortage, it would be beneficial to let Hong Kongers who want to start a new life in a free country do so. 

Obviously, anyone applying for these would still have to undergo some sort of security check. We can assume that the CCP would attempt to funnel in bad actors through a more open visa system in Hong Kong, especially in these times. However, once they do, an influx of talented Hong Kongers who share Taiwanese values such as respect for human rights and democracy can only be good for the country. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Care workers, not employers, lack protections

I had a letter to the editor published in the Taipei Times today. I'll put the whole text here as they're my words, but first, a quick link to the letter that spurred my response.

Because my point is not to attack Ms. Chang, but rather to address some of the problematic beliefs expressed in her letter, which are unfortunately all too common in Taiwan, I want to state my final point at the beginning: if a potential employer of foreign blue-collar labor - care workers, fishermen, factory workers, anyone - thinks their rights are insufficient and those workers have "too many" protections, they are welcome to hire Taiwanese employees for those jobs. That means paying them a Taiwanese wage (which isn't all that high itself), under Taiwanese labor laws. You wouldn't have to wait a few months before hiring somebody - they can go out and find someone right now! So why don't they?

If these jobs are so great, then surely many Taiwanese are excited to take them and would happily accept the positions on offer.

Oh, they're not?

Could it be, perhaps, that the workers aren't the ones getting the best end of this deal? Could it be that "too many protections" to these employers still amounts to fewer protections than any Taiwanese citizen would accept, and the goal of some of these employers is to keep the workers they hire as exploitable and exploited as possible?

All I can say is, whenever an employer of a foreign worker says "they ran away! I didn't do anything wrong and they just absconded!", while they may be right (not all employers are bad), I sure want to hear that worker's story first.

And one final point: unionization could help in this regard. Fishing workers, care workers, factory workers - both local or foreign - would do well to unionize. Frankly, English teachers should too but that's a far-off dream and we're not the ones with the most to complain about.

Here's the letter:

Ms Heidi Chang’s (張姮燕) article (“Employers need protections too,” May 24, page 6) made the case that “migrant workers’” rights had improved in Taiwan, but employers’ rights had not, going so far as to complain that all employers are treated equally under the law — as though this was not how the law was supposed to work.

The truth is that the rights of foreign blue-collar workers have still not caught up with the rights their employers have always enjoyed.

This segment of the foreign community in Taiwan is more likely than other groups to encounter abuse. Recently, a care worker from the Philippines was threatened with deportation by her employer and brokerage agency for criticizing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Recall the Indonesian care worker who was repeatedly raped by her employer, was ignored by her broker and attempted suicide.

The law in Taiwan allows employers who are convicted of abusing domestic workers — including rapists — to hire a new domestic worker, who is likely to be female and highly likely to become a new victim, after the first offense. They are only barred from hiring after multiple offenses.

Instead of asking what employers’ rights are, ask this: Why is one rape not enough to bar them from ever hiring a home care worker again?

Workers in the fishing industry are often subjected to horrific conditions, including beatings, having their documents withheld, or outright slavery. Even though such treatment is illegal, it is difficult for fishing boat workers to seek help.

This abuse is rampant and has resulted in deaths. Taiwanese employers are the focus of more complaints by Indonesian fishers than any other country.

Employers are legally able to pay foreign employees well below the minimum wage, and domestic workers are still not covered under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法). It is relatively easy for them to force their employees to work overtime, often without days off, or to perform tasks outside their contracts. Cramped dorms, and unsafe work and living conditions are not only additional risks, they have also resulted in deaths.

The easiest way to ensure a foreign worker does not abscond is to treat them well. Most people want to work legally, keeping the scant protections they have and usually “run” because they have no better option. “Undocumented” work offers no protection at all and might pay much less.

This fantasy of workers from Southeast Asia amassing huge sums of money at the expense of hardworking Taiwanese so they might return to their home countries is just that, a fantasy.

This is not just a problem with employers, it is a systemic one. There is no easy way to switch employers. Brokerage firms often charge exorbitant fees and openly exploit workers. The entire brokerage system is akin to legalized indentured servitude or human trafficking. It must be abolished. It is a smear on Taiwan’s reputation as a bastion of liberal democratic and human rights in Asia.

Most Taiwanese employers do treat foreign employees well. For those who feel that their rights are insufficient, I kindly suggest hiring Taiwanese workers. If they do not want to, perhaps they should reconsider who really gets the better deal.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

CECC speaks out on discrimination against foreigners by businesses in Taiwan due to COVID19

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I don't have a good cover photo so enjoy this picture of an interesting gate. 


Since it became apparent that some businesses in Taiwan were discriminating against foreigners due to COVID19, many have discussed what could be done about it. Foreigners and Taiwanese incensed by unfair and irrational policies by these businesses - stepped up and called these businesses out on their behavior.

Publicly laying into such businesses was less effective than messaging them privately and asking them to change their policies, pointing out both the discrimination issue and the irrationality of the policies. I'd guesstimate that roughly 8 out of 10 businesses I messaged were willing to change their policies. I don't know the success rate of others - certainly I wasn't the only person doing this. That speaks well of Taiwan: it's not a perfect country, but there are a lot of countries where the majority of businesses would simply ignore such requests and continue discriminating.

This was also great as it meant local businesses rarely had to be called out publicly. When it did happen, I was pleased to see plenty of local support.

There was talk of getting local media reporting on it, or having a local reporter ask the CECC at their press conference about the issue. People respect Chen Shih-chung (陳時中). If they say it's not okay to discriminate, businesses will listen. I can say that this idea came from a local, not a foreigner.

Taiwan News eventually reported on the issue. That report focused on a single nightclub, but drew attention to a wider problem.

From there, the issue made its way to the CECC. I won't give details, but there are many Taiwanese committed to fighting discrimination who deserve credit. This isn't just angry foreigners with torches and pitchforks - it was a group effort with local support.

And today, this happened, reported in ETToday:



中央流行疫情指揮中心指揮官陳時中今(6日)特別強調,病毒攻擊不分什麼樣的人,不要因疫情造成人與人間的對抗,大家多有點同理心,抗疫一定做得更好。 
Chen Shih-chung, leader of the Central Epidemic Epidemic Command Center [and current Minister of Health and Welfare], emphasized today (the 6th of May) that the virus does not distinguish between different kinds of people. The epidemic should not cause person-to-person confrontation. It would be better for everyone to have a little empathy. [Translation mine].

People do respect Chen, and generally have been happy with the CECC's handling of COVID19. So, I do think this will have an effect. Addressing this issue publicly, at a national level, will hopefully cause businesses to abandon discriminatory policies or, if they were considering them, scrap their plans.

Chen is respected in great part because he's got class, saying a little to accomplish a lot without mocking or scolding. Some foreign residents might have been hoping for more of a ‘rebuke’ or ‘reprimand’ in his statement. However, while Chen's language might sound mild to foreigners, but the meaning of those words - the illocutionary force of a reprimand: don’t do this! - will be understood in Taiwanese society. And he will be respected because he didn’t act like a scolding father, but a leader. Trust me, his meaning is clear in this cultural context.

For those that don't, we can point to Chen's statement as a potent antidote to the poison of discrimination - what can a business say when the CECC itself is asking them not to discriminate?

That this was able to happen - the right wheels turned, the right gears ground, people came together - speaks well of Taiwan.


Now, if we can that kind of effort together to fight discrimination against non-white foreigners (predominantly Southeast Asians), that will really be cause to celebrate. Let's keep fighting. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Discrimination against foreigners by Taiwanese businesses rises due to COVID-19 (but there's good news!)

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Updated (4/19/2020):

Friends are reporting that the Zhongxiao East Road branch of 東京燒肉專門 is not allowing foreigners to enter unless they show a passport with entry dates. Here's a link to their discriminatory policy. They say they don't discriminate, but it's stated that only foreigners need to show this, which...is discrimination.

It's also impossible - what on Earth is in my passport that I could show them, for example? How do they know who is and isn't a citizen based on looks (or even language ability) alone?


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Discrimination against foreigners in Taiwan is still going on - and this time around, there are more places that people are reporting as not serving foreigners at all, often citing a bogus "police document" or "government policy".

Something needs to be done about this - it's not just the bad logic. It's not just the discrimination. It's that these businesses are lying about government policy and "police documents" to justify discrimination, which is disinformation and harmful to public health.



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This club isn't named, but it's just one example of using "the police" as an excuse to discriminate


You can report discrimination in Taipei City to Taipei Urbanism, which will follow up with the business in question as well as pass the information on to the government. You can also send a petition directly to Taipei City government. Outside of Taipei, there are surely petition systems for other municipalities. You can also email the Executive Yuan - if they receive enough emails, perhaps they will make a statement about this trend.

If you're wondering if I'm wrong about this and it really is some sort of policy, please remember that Mayor Ko specifically asked businesses not to do this in a tweet in late March. Furthermore, I asked a friend who works for the city government, who asked colleagues in the relevant departments, all of whom said it is not a "government policy", at least in Taipei.

There are also some discriminatory businesses in Taichung which are named in the comments. 


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It's become apparent in recent days that several businesses in Taiwan have begun to discriminate against foreigners, using COVID19 as an excuse. They are either outright refusing service to foreign customers, or requiring foreigners (only foreigners - not Taiwanese) to provide passport and flight details. In some cases, this is due to rumors that COVID19 carriers had visited these bars, although some of these stories have turned out to be false.

The Bird in Tainan has also published a long, pointless rant defending its banning of foreigners from the premises after receiving complaints on the anti-foreigner policy in the screenshot below (update: they have since changed their policy).



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Point #5 says that foreigners are not allowed to enter this nightclub.


Such policies are discriminatory, and acting on them is is illegal (a friend who is a lawyer pointed out to me that the policies themselves are not actionable but if they were caught turning away a foreigner simply for being a foreigner, that might be.)


They are also illogical, as most people who have entered Taiwan from abroad in recent weeks have been Taiwanese. Foreign visitors are not currently allowed in, and the foreign resident community isn't traveling much. We're not the ones pouring in bringing COVID19 with us. Most new cases have been Taiwanese returning from other countries, not foreigners. It makes no sense to target us.

Though I'm avoiding using the word "racist", there is a racial element to the discrimination. A Chinese-speaking person of Taiwanese heritage with a foreign passport who had recently been abroad would certainly not be checked. A foreign resident who has not left Taiwan in years probably would be, even if they had an ROC ID (a very small number do). Such policies absolutely target people based on their appearance.


This trend seemed to start in restaurants and bars, but is now making its way to hotel and airbnb rentals:


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Here's the good news: since the foreign community began complaining about the discriminatory policies, some of the businesses implicated have either taken down the posts stating that foreigners would receive discriminatory treatment (I have screenshots but will not post them if the policy has been changed), or issued corrections and apologies (update: here's the most recent policy change and apology).

This is exactly the point of speaking up: directly calling out discrimination and requesting that policies be changed can work. The goal is not to hurt these businesses - we're all facing difficult times during this epidemic and nobody wants to make that worse for anyone else - but to spur positive change. It also serves to put other businesses on notice: if such policies become widespread, we will notice, we will respond, and we will tell our local friends. I don't want this to become a trend, so we have to put a stop to it now by making it clear that the foreign community will not tolerate it.

Before changing their policies, two of these establishments said they were "merely following government policy". If it had been one of them, I'd assume it was a face-saving excuse and nothing more. But when the second business said the same thing I started wondering: is some bad actor spreading disinformation? Is this an intentional campaign (not by the government) that has convinced a few business owners that these policies were necessary? Did some Youtuber blame foreigners for COVID19, causing this reaction?

Here's another restaurant doing the same thing: Indulge Bistro is requiring foreigners to provide entry stamps on passports to be served.


They don't seem to realize that, because foreign visitors are banned from entering Taiwan, almost every foreigner in Taiwan right now is a resident. We enter on our ARCs, not our passports, and most of us use e-gate. That means the vast majority of foreigners do not have entry stamps.



They do not require the same thing of Taiwanese - though they do say they won't serve you if you've traveled in the past 14 days, there is no stated requirement for Taiwanese to prove this - only foreigners. This is a form of discrimination.

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Some establishments have still not gotten the message despite complaints on their Facebook page for several days: Abrazo still has language up on their Facebook page that discriminates against foreigners. 

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This part (體溫檢測超過 37.5°C則謝絕入場或上班,並要求到外籍客戶入店消費前,也需出具有清楚標示最近一次入境日期的護照證明正本) says that people with a temperature over 37.5C are not allowed to enter, and foreign customers must produce a passport with a clearly marked entry stamp. 


If they want to be safe and check travel histories, there are blanket policies they can create which cover everyone, not just foreigners. These would be more effective, as most people who have traveled in the past 14 days and are now in Taiwan are Taiwanese.


My gym requires everyone to sign in, leave contact information and record their temperature. This is quite fair, as the policy applies to everyone. This would be a better approach for these businesses, and I strongly urge them to change their policies immediately.
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This is one of the apologies in question.
Clearly, calling out these establishments has a positive effect!

Generally, I feel welcome in Taiwan and I do believe that most Taiwanese are happy to have a dedicated foreign community here. However, actions like this make us feel very unwelcome indeed. If Taiwan wants to retain its reputation as a friendly and international nation, this sort of attitude must stop.

So far, the businesses in question are mostly bars and nightclubs, although some other business have been implicated as well,  including a hotel in Tainan rumored to have refused a room to a foreigner, saying "you should be in quarantine".

Another hotel in Guguan, a pharmacy and a popular dive shop in Taiwan have also been found announce discriminatory policies (e.g. only serving Taiwanese citizens, only selling to foreigners online, or allowing bookings by Taiwanese who've traveled recently, but not foreigners). However, after discussion with the various owners, these have generally been cleared up.


This pokes at a deeper fear that a lot of foreign residents in Taiwan have: what if Taiwan faces a medical triage situation? Again, I'm aware most Taiwanese would not treat me any differently than a Taiwanese patient, and I don't expect priority treatment. I'd be more likely to let those in greater need be treated first. But what if I am assigned doctor or nurse who decides on their own that caring for me is less important, because I am a foreigner?

It's unlikely, but not impossible. This attitude does exist in Taiwan, as these businesses have shown with their anti-foreigner sentiment.

Has a business in Taiwan discriminated against you, as a foreigner, due to COVID19? Do you have proof? (I can't name names with a story). Let me know - I'll add them to the list of places that do not welcome us and are hurting Taiwan's reputation as a country that values equal rights for all residents.

It is important that we call out these discriminatory practices, and more importantly, that we request changes. Although Indulge and Abrazo have yet to respond, and the complaints about hotels and airbnb bookings are just coming in. Ideally, the government would circulate a public service announcement that discriminating against foreigners who are not in quarantine and reside here legally is not okay and may even be illegal, to counter whatever fearmongering the people engaging in this practice are absorbing. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Paper Ninja Stars (or: Fear, Foreboding and the Taiwanese Left)

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The graphic that appeared by the names of some Taiwan Statebuilding Party candidates in the 2020 election on official ballots


First, an announcement: you’ll be seeing fewer (and shorter) posts from me between now and June. I am now officially shoulder-deep in dissertation writing and really must concentrate on that. I’ll update occasionally, but in the meantime I’ll be posting relevant content by others on the Lao Ren Cha Facebook page (yes, that is a thing which I never formally announced). 

Anyway, let me tell you a story. 

When I was in junior high, I was the target of a not-very-successful bully (everyone else hated him too; his bullying did not win him any popularity). He’d randomly trip me in the hall, push or whack me for no reason. Once, he ran into a classroom I was in, put some tape he’d pulled from a cassette around my neck and ran out holding both ends. One day, he made a paper ninja star and flung it at me just as a class we had together was about to start. It nearly hit me in the eye.

I lost it. I got up, slapped him hard across the face, picked him up by the neck - lots of adrenaline going - threw him into a row of desks, and then kicked him so he slammed further into those desks. I may have done more; I was a whirling dervish of rage and I truly don’t remember. 

My response was way out of proportion to his throwing a paper star at me. But honestly, considering everything else he’d done over the past two years, it had been a long time coming. I don’t condone violence and would not do this as an adult, but I’m also not sorry for beating the crap out of him as a teenager. 

So what? 


I’m not talking about those who pointed out the logistical issues or the question of priority. Those opinions are reasonable. I’m talking about those who expressed that the lives of those people were not Taiwan’s concern - despite their being family members of Taiwanese nationals.

I had been trying to start from kindness - that is, recognize that it’s important to treat even people you don’t like as human beings whose lives matter. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t care for the attitudes of Taishang generally. And, just as importantly, that it’s not right to dismiss children as ‘not our concern’ because you don’t like the decisions of their parents - decisions the children had no say in. 

After acknowledging that, talk of logistics becomes possible, and the same decision may have been made in the end because China has left Taiwan with so few options - but the process of the discourse matters. 

I stand by that view, but here’s what’s changed: I should have also started from kindness when considering Taiwanese public opinion. 

With a few exceptions of some extreme comments online that do not represent the norm, I highly doubt most people actually want to punish those children by refusing them evacuation because they dislike their parents. Most people are quite capable of realizing that those children did not choose to be Chinese nationals.

Rather, it was a howl of rage from Taiwanese who’ve chosen to stay and engage with their country, who are sick and tired of both China’s bullshit and Taishang opportunism and sellout behavior that actively harms Taiwan. Howls of rage are not always politically correct, but that does not render them unjustified. This one was a long time in coming, and I should have seen that immediately. 

In other ways, I’ve tried to be empathetic to these expressions of anger. While I appreciate the discussion of Sinophobia in Taiwanese discourse, generally I feel we should always - always - view statements that may seem aggressively nationalist or anti-China on their face in the context in which they are made. 

Taiwan has been treated like garbage by the Chinese government for so long - and individual Taiwanese have been insulted by a large number of Chinese citizens so regularly - that honestly, can you blame them for lashing out? Maybe give the victims in this game a break instead of (yet again) putting the burden of assuming a conciliatory tone on them. 

Especially when they already know that it’s logistically impossible to do much for those children and accompanying spouses, it becomes easy to vent one’s justified rage at Taishang who expect special treatment and whine and writhe with entitlement when they don’t get it. 

That said, my actual conclusions remain the same: a different active response is not logistically possible, but I still cannot condone a “those children aren’t Taiwanese so they are not our concern” attitude. Even when their parents often have an opportunistic, have-your-Chinese-money-but-get-Taiwanese-benefits-too attitude to Taiwan (to put it gently).

The difference is this: I’ve come to realize the public anger mostly did not stem from the question of the Taishang children specifically, just as my throwing that kid into a desk in junior high wasn’t really about a paper ninja star. 

And that’s just it: while remaining true to ethical convictions that do matter to me, I could have started from kindness when evaluating a facet of public opinion that bothered me deeply. Both were possible. 

So where did my original reaction come from? 

Fear, honestly.

I don’t think the ethical divide on this issue is really that great, if it’s there at all. But where I saw “people lashing out at foreigners...and I’m a foreigner!”, I suspect most people saw “we’ve been bullied for so long by China and people who sell out to China, and we’re sick of it!”

“Foreigners” as a general class was never really the point.

This fear also includes worries over the unstable life situations all immigrants face. I do wonder, for some people (though not all), at what point in a crisis I might be deemed “not Taiwanese enough” to receive the same assistance as everyone else, as a taxpayer and part of the system. 

I’ve had a few experiences in the past where expressing a political opinion that a Taiwanese local did not personally agree with caused that person to default to “well, you’re not Taiwanese” (implied: so you don’t matter). That a lot - if not most - locals might actually agree with my opinion didn’t seem to register. I’ve had people just assume that if Taiwan faced a true emergency I’d just leave, because theoretically I "can" (I wouldn’t - and there are real questions over whether I actually "can"). 

At what point does a reaction like that spill over into views on who should get access to what services?

But, overall, I doubt most people would think I should be denied, say, medical care in Taiwan during a pandemic. I pay for NHI just like everyone else, after all, and don’t try to game the system the way a lot of Taishang do. In any case, there’s an element of white privilege which would blunt such an effect. 

Remember, however, that the vast majority of foreigners in Taiwan are not white, they are Southeast Asian, and they have neither the privilege nor often the resources to weather a public opinion backlash against their access to health services in Taiwan.

Is it any wonder, then, that when I hear “Taiwanese citizens first!” that it puts me on edge, even though I know that’s not meant to include me?

But, there’s an even more complex fear: fear that the Taiwanese political left I generally support does not actually support people like me. 

As much as I hate them, I can’t deny that the immigration reforms the KMT passed under Ma Ying-jeou were genuinely helpful for foreigners and conveyed a more welcoming attitude (though, again, that was very much contingent on white and Han privilege - rules were relaxed for Chinese accompanying family, and foreign professionals like me, but nothing really improved for the blue-collar workers who make up the backbone of Taiwan’s foreign labor and community). 

I also don’t doubt that the Tsai administration is more or less on our side: they passed some pretty striking immigration reform themselves, though again they seemed to encode privilege into law, demarcating in even more detail which immigrants were ‘worthy’ and which were not (spoiler alert: I’m not). 

But those left of Tsai - think the NPP, back when they mattered? They were key voices in scrapping the proposed relaxation of rules on hiring foreign workers, such as the required salary floor and required previous work experience for professionals. (Their arguments did not make a lot of economic sense, either - they just ensured that people who wanted to move to Taiwan either could not do so, or got stuck teaching English when they really didn’t want to, which isn’t good for the profession.) I hear noises from them that immigration should be controlled to ‘protect Taiwanese jobs’ and no specific support from them on the ever-present dual nationality issue, despite their putting forward an ‘internationalized’ face more broadly. At the end of the day, a few (though not all) of them are still localists who may be friendly to ‘foreigners’, but will always consider immigrants in Taiwan to be just that - only foreigners, never ‘new’ members of a common community. That is, if they consider us at all. 

So, when newly-elected legislator Chen Bo-wei made the news saying that “foreigners” (外籍人士) should pay more for health insurance in Taiwan, surely it is understandable that it sounded as though he were referring to all foreigners. After all, the term he used is fairly broad: I might be considered 外籍人士

Several people asked his office for clarification, at which point it was explained that he specifically meant Chinese accompanying family, who are covered under a different category of National Health Insurance (foreign residents like me are covered like ordinary taxpayers as we work here), and whose 'residency requirements' were relaxed under Ma Ying-jeou. Simply put, Chen - a known localist - should have made himself clear from the beginning and not spoken so carelessly. 

In a world that made sense, I’d still disagree with Chen: Chinese are foreigners, just like me. Therefore, eligible Chinese nationals shouldn’t obtain NHI coverage under a special category, any more so than any other foreigner. Acknowledging that they’re not like other foreigners, if anything, implies that there is a special quasi-intranational relationship between Taiwan and China when I’d argue that there shouldn’t be. 

However, the world doesn’t make sense, and I don’t know that we’re at a point in international relations where adjusting the law in that direction would be feasible. 

In any case, surely one can see how a statement like Chen’s would raise concerns. The KMT is out of power and they’re awful (and Han supremacist) anyway - they might’ve passed some strong immigration reform, but to them Taiwan’s fate is ultimately Chinese, period. The DPP under Tsai is more internationally oriented than in the Hoklo chauvinist Chen years, when there was essentially no forward momentum on immigration policy. 

But, the Tsai administration is also slow and cautious. The Taiwanese left - those whom I’d otherwise tend to agree with - are not necessarily strong allies of the foreign community. This makes it hard to know quite who to support.

With all this in mind, is it any wonder that criticism of “non-Taiwanese” getting access to “Taiwanese” resources would cause worry in Taiwan’s foreign community? We’re not exactly sure who our allies are, though we know we have them.

And we're the most privileged foreigners (after perhaps overseas Chinese who have obtained ROC nationality). What about the most vulnerable?

But, there are times when something that looks on its face like an anti-foreigner backlash isn’t really that at all: it’s a reaction to years of being bullied (by China) and really has nothing to do with “foreigners”, or “children”. I can’t ever agree with the more extreme comments I saw (e.g. “bastard children of traitors and their mistresses”) and I still think that the child of a citizen deserves to be treated as more than just a foreigner regardless of their nationality. Context matters, however, and the anger I witnessed certainly has a a fraught one.