Showing posts with label immigration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label immigration. Show all posts

Saturday, March 21, 2020

On immigration, Taiwan does the right thing - and Tsai Ing-wen is the leader of the free world

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Bad idea, guys. 



Super hot breaking news!

The Bureau of Consular Affairs has just announced that visa waiver, landing visa and visitor visas will automatically be extended by 30 days, with no need for further application, as long as the total stay does not exceed 180 days.

The Mandarin announcement is here, and here is the English.

The government may re-evaluate the policy as circumstances require. That's good news - it means that if the pandemic continues, the period can be potentially extended. 


Note that if you are one of the few people who has been able to extend a 90-day visitor visa, this probably doesn't apply to you, as the visa plus extension would be 180 days exactly. 

This is phenomenal news, you guys. Unlike the 'voluntary departure' program which was trying to get people to go home on their own, this gives people an explicit option to stay. That's safer for them and safer for the world, and doesn't hurt Taiwan. They are already here, they are not known carriers, and because their stay in Taiwan is contingent on the government's beneficence, they are probably not going to go around violating quarantine and being jerks.

It's also truly amazing that the government took this step, given the animus some have shown towards COVID19 carriers who have arrived in Taiwan, with some taking a "name and shame" approach, saying they 'deserve' it for traveling abroad. It can be expected that some of this anger may be directed at foreign visitors, and indeed some have asked whether Taiwan 'owes' these visitors anything, even though almost all of these cases have been from Taiwanese citizens, not foreigners. 


That shows a truly progressive and compassionate side to the current administration's policies which should be praised. 

I have to admit, I teared up a little at the news. This helps at least three of the people in visa limbo who I wrote about, including the Honduran man who cannot marry his Taiwanese partner (I asked). In a world that feels like it's off its hinges, with some people being cruel when it wouldn't hurt them to be empathetic, this is the right thing to do. Taiwan doesn't officially or ethically 'owe' visitors a thing, but it shows striking kindness to do it anyway.



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There's a surgical mask under that flowery cover

Not a lot of countries would do this - most seem to want foreigners gone as the pandemic rages - but Taiwan did. It deserves credit for that.

Is Taiwan doing a perfect job? No. It probably should be testing more people, and it absolutely should not deny testing to anyone with symptoms - whether or not there is community transmission yet, we're not going to know if there is if we don't test the community more generally. The fear and confusion over immigration issues also caused a lot of anxiety.

However, I would still say it has the best possible response. It has been more pro-active, more empathetic, more sane, and more calm than any other country - to both citizens and foreign residents - than just about any other country.

On that note, President Tsai - at this point, the true leader of the free world - calmed the nation while warning us all that the next two weeks were critical, especially in terms of preventing the onset of community transmission.

What I glean from this is that this 'second wave' of imported cases was expected, that the government does feel there is hope to stay the course, but also that they expect a spike in cases in the next two weeks, with possible community transmission. This was a calming, unifying speech but also a somber warning.

That doesn't mean we should panic. It does mean that instead of panic-buying, we have a week or so to slowly start building our lockdown pantries. My advice: don't go for the items people are panic-buying, like instant noodles. Most of us don't have yards we can exercise and get sunlight in. Do you want to emerge from quarantine or lockdown as a pale, sickly and heavily-salted blob? No? Then fill your freezer (or buy a portable freezer) with fresh vegetables (some of which need to be blanched before freezing, stock up on freezable or canned proteins (beans, tempeh, tofu - the latter two freeze well), a variety of healthy grains and whatever you need to make it all taste good. Stuff for soup, items high in nutrients (especially Vitamin C). Stay healthy.


Finally, a quick note about "blaming".

If we are talking about actual COVID19 cases, I agree with Tsai that we shouldn't be blaming those who contract the illness. It's a pandemic - getting sick should be stigma-free.

It should be obvious as well that blaming "China" isn't helpful. Chinese people have suffered under the CCP's mismanagement of the pandemic as much as the world has, and the CCP is still lying about it. I will never condone calling this thing the "Chinese virus" (yikes) - it perpetuates racism against Chinese people rather than accurately blaming the CCP, and frankly is exactly what the CCP wants. It makes them look like victims when they are in fact perpetrators and makes it easier for them to put a favorable spin on their horrible, world-endangering pandemic response.

However, I've noticed an uptick in the number of people who might be critical of the CCP at other times (or not), who seem to specifically not want to blame anybody. That, I disagree with - fighting racism doesn't mean refusing to lay blame on a government whose actions merit it - being too soft on the CCP is harmful in its own way as it allows their behavior to continue (including a disinformation campaign that is, in fact, working). We can, should and must blame the CCP. Do not let them off the hook. Do not be kind. Blame and shame, and shame and blame some more. Play the blame and shame game.

I'll quote a lot here as the article is paywalled:


We must all be specific in blaming the Chinese Communist Party for its actions. It was the CCP that hid the virus outbreak for weeks, silencing doctors, jailing journalists and thwarting science — most notably by shutting down the Shanghai lab that publicly released the first coronavirus genome sequence.
The Chinese people are heroes in this story. Chinese doctors, researchers and journalists risked their lives and even died fighting the virus and warning the world. The Chinese public’s community solidarity holds lessons for us as our own situation worsens. The Chinese are also victims of their own government’s draconian measures, which caused massive extra suffering.
“It is critical to remember that the Chinese people have no meaningful say in the measures taken by their government,” said Christopher Walker, vice president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy. “In the haze of authoritarian information curation and disinformation now coming from Beijing, we can’t lose sight of the massive authoritarian governance failure at the global pandemic’s point of origin.”
This is not just about the coronavirus; it’s a crucial point relative to our whole approach toward China. Our beef is not with the Chinese people; our problem is with the CCP — its internal repression, its external aggression, and its malign influence in free and open societies.

We should blame the CCP not only for their own pandemic response, but for actively keeping that information away from the world, by putting the WHO so far into their pocket that the organization ignored early warnings from Taiwan, a country they routinely exclude (again paywalled - here's the money quote):


Health officials in Taipei said they alerted the WHO at the end of December about the risk of human-to-human transmission of the new virus but said its concerns were not passed on to other countries. 
Taiwan is excluded from the WHO because China, which claims it as part of its territory, demands that third countries and international bodies do not treat it in any way that resembles how independent states are treated.

Fight the virus, yes. But don't pretend there's no reason to blame anyone. The WHO has been actively harming human health, and the CCP is a global threat in more ways than one.

Blame them. Do not shy away. Do not pretend it makes you a better or more high-minded person to soften the blow. It just means you're not helping to hold the perpetrators accountable.

They should burn for this, so make them burn.

I want to end this on a positive note, so - stay safe everyone. I suspect Taiwan is in for a bit of a ride in the next two weeks, so be prepared but do not panic.

This country has been a global leader through the COVID19 fight, and is used to dealing with CCP lies. You are safer here than anywhere else, and most of you who were afraid you'd have to leave now thirty extra days.

You are in the country that is now the de facto leader of the free world, governed by the woman who might just be the most competent president on Earth right now.

As one of the only leaders in the world handling the crisis well, while maintaining freedom, human rights, compassion and empathy while holding strong and calming the nation, she has shown an ability that is unmatched. I wouldn't want to be under anyone else's leadership in this time.

What does that make her if not the leader of the free world?

Her government tried to warn the entire human race, and were ignored. They were the leaders the world needed before anyone realized it.

Maybe the world should realize that, and recognize Taiwan.

Be safe and stay strong.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Thoughts on the "Expanded Overstayers Voluntary Departure" Scheme

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I cannot imagine a poster with more Taiwanese-style design choices



I'm still forming a full opinion on this, so my position is subject to change.

At the moment, Taiwan has a program running where visa overstayers can voluntarily turn themselves in until 30 June 2020. They'll pay a minimal fine (NT$2000) and face no detention or entry ban.

Please be aware: anyone caught by authorities will be subject to full penalties which may include a ban on re-entering Taiwan. That includes being caught at any time, including the "voluntary departure" period.

There is no promise that the immigration authorities will not conduct checks during this period, and if you are caught you will be deported with full penalty. 
In other words, this program isn't aimed at helping you stay - it's aimed at convincing you to leave by making that option relatively painless. The government is not saying "you can overstay your visa", they're saying "you can't overstay your visa, but if you do, we'll make it easy for you to get out".

Therefore, "taking advantage" of the amnesty program is a huge risk. Do this at your peril: I can't in good conscience advise it. If you are an overstayer, you may get caught, and you may be deported.

It's quite clear that if you turn yourself in, at that time you will be expected to leave, so this is not a "you can stay" program. It's a "if you leave on your own before we catch you, we won't punish you" program. Bear that in mind.

On one hand, this is more than most countries do for people whose visas are running out, or who may be in the country illegally. It feels like a very 'Taiwanese bureaucracy' way of saying "in practice, you can theoretically stay until 30 June, which is our intention, but we have to pretend to be tough on immigration for appearances' sake".

It's not perfect and it doesn't reduce anxiety, but we really must recognize that the vast majority of governments would not do this. Taiwan did. That counts for something. 



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It also gives them leeway to decide to extend the program for as long as the CCP Virus rages. So, there is humanity in it. It offers options to some of the people who otherwise might have none.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the CCP Virus will have abated by then (do not believe the data coming out of China) and no guarantee that the program will be extended. There's no guarantee that a cheap, regional visa run will be possible at that time.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people it doesn't help. People trying to get paperwork through that would allow them to stay legally, but won't be processed by the time their visas run out and might have to wait out the CCP Virus in a far more dangerous country where they might not have a clear place to stay aren't offered much here. People who do regional visa runs (like the Honduran man in my last piece who wants to marry his Taiwanese partner, but can't) can use this program as an unofficial extension, but face uncertainty after that date. Illegal workers, especially those who are scraping by in Taiwan, might not have the resources to leave if they do turn themselves in.

What bothers me about it, I suppose, is that philosophically it's still in the "go home!" camp, and a lot of people facing visa issues in fact consider Taiwan home. As a supporter of open borders, I'd prefer a "you are here, we'll shelter in place together" approach. Instead, it's a kinder form of trying to kick people out.

Allowing all landing visa holders to convert to a visitor visa would be the real game-changer, as those visas would start running out at about the same time, but would grant temporary legal status rather than giving people anxiety for choosing to overstay. It looks a lot less "strict" but it would be a more progressive approach.

And yet, at a time like this, can I really expect a perfect response? 


It's hard to say I like this approach, but I have to recognize that it's a slight improvement in the situation with some practical benefits.

However, it really doesn't solve the issues faced by those who are affected by the travel ban as their legal stays in Taiwan start to expire.

Thoughts?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

In Limbo: foreigners hoping to build lives in Taiwan face uncertainty with the new travel ban

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The Taiwan CECC (Central Epidemic Command Center) announcement on Wednesday that all non-resident foreigners would be barred from entering the country sent shockwaves across Taiwan’s international community due to the CCP Virus. Many who had hoped to enter Taiwan, or who are here legally on landing or tourist visas and had hoped to stay, were caught without many good options. 

On a positive note, the government’s explicit clarification that foreign residents would be allowed to enter was a relief. While it’s unlikely we would have been banned, policymakers have a tendency to forget that the foreign community exists, leaving us confused and anxious whenever a new policy doesn’t clearly state whether we are included or not. That they thought of this signals a welcome change.

However, many foreigners in Taiwan who do not have legal residency are now finding themselves difficult situations. While regular tourists can be expected to leave, not everyone fits that category. There are those who are here legally as job seekers, engaged to marry a resident, digital nomads, and others who wanted to fly in to be with family but now can't. 


I asked a few of these people if they'd mind sharing their stories, and they've agreed. From employment, to marriage, to pregnancy to keeping families together, there are so many ways that the new policy has impacted foreigners, in ways the government likely never considered.

Here are some of their stories. 

(More stories are coming in, so I'll update as that happens.)


Trying to marry as the window closes


D. is a resident in Taiwan, working in the tech sector. A Hungarian national born in Serbia, he is engaged to an American woman who has been staying here on landing visas. He can stay, but she can't, once her visa is up. It's highly unlikely that "we're planning to marry" would trigger an exemption, but of course it would be safer and better if they weathered this pandemic in place, together.

They've looked into speeding up the wedding, but the thorny issue of his nationality makes obtaining the necessary certificate of single status difficult for him to obtain, at a time when de facto embassies here are dealing with bigger matters. The TECO office in Hungary also serves Serbians (there is no office in Serbia for political reasons), but he has no contacts in Hungary who can send him the needed certificate. It is easier for his partner, who should be able to go to AIT if they're not completely overwhelmed.

They are currently planning to try to get the required document for him from the Hungarian embassy in Taiwan so they can register to marry before her visa expires, but it is still unclear if that will be possible.



A high-risk pregnancy and delivering alone

M. is single and carrying a high-risk pregnancy which is due in 4 weeks. Her mother was scheduled to fly to Taiwan for the delivery, was willing to do the mandatory quarantine and even moved her flight up. She was going to get here this Saturday - which was not soon enough before the travel ban took effect.

Due to coronavirus concerns, only one family member - and yes, they must be a family member - is allowed in the delivery room. M. has no family in Taiwan, so she will deliver alone. She also lives alone, and can't afford a post-partum hotel, so while she'd been looking forward to having her mother there during her recovery period, now she'll be living alone for that time.

She doesn't know when her mother will be able to get here. 



Family reunification


S. and S. are permanent residents in Taipei, but their daughter A. lives in London with her boyfriend, whom she met while attending international school in Taipei. They've been together 6 years. The daughter and her boyfriend want to return to Taiwan to stay with S. and S. (the boyfriend's parents currently live in China, and he is American by nationality). Because the option to get permanent residency for the children of permanent residents was only recently made available, A. missed that window and has no resident visa.

S. says that A. and her boyfriend attempted to get visas, giving the reason that they want to be with family (official or otherwise) but were turned away.

"I don’t know when I’ll see her. I wish they had ARCs. It doesn’t seem fair, because this is our home now - we both have APRCs. This is the only home she has, besides her apartment in London," S. says, and she clearly wants her daughter with her.



Newly-Hired Limbo


For those hoping to teach in Taiwan, a background check from their home country is necessary for their first job. For subsequent jobs, if they haven't been out of Taiwan for too long, a Taiwanese background check is sufficient. Of course, the home-country checks take forever because Western governments just can't get these things right. The Taiwanese check is cheap and takes a day or two.

C., an American, had had a home background check done for a previous job, but that was awhile ago, so it's no longer valid. He's now back in Taiwan and had been job hunting on a landing visa (which is not really encouraged, but is quite common). He has a job offer with all other paperwork complete, but the employer needs a background check from the US, as this will be his first stint here on a work permit. Background checks can take a very long time indeed, though there is an option to expedite. An expedited check under the best circumstances takes a week. With the West in the throes of a pandemic, who knows how long it will be?

C's landing visa runs out on March 29th. Work permit paperwork takes 5 days. So, he has until this Monday - that's two working days - to figure this out and get his paperwork submitted.  That won't be possible, clearly. Normally one would just take a weekender to a nearby country to restart the landing visa and pick up the work permit after returning, but with the borders closed to all non-residents, that's no longer an option for C. - which was announced just a few days before his hard deadline to get the paperwork through, or leave.

C. isn't sure what he's going to do, or if going to the immigration office, hat in hand, with a letter from his new employer and copies of his work permit application materials, will be enough to have an exception granted (this is easier for Canadians and British people but not as easy for Americans). He can try, but his future is uncertain.



Love, Interrupted

W. is from the Honduras, and his partner, D., is Taiwanese. Although same-sex marriage is legal in Taiwan, Taiwanese can only marry foreigners if it is legal in their partner's home country as well (due to reasons I truly do not comprehend). Honduras, of course, does not recognize marriage equality, so W. and D. cannot marry in Taiwan. This also means that D., a Taiwanese citizen, cannot access a right that should be guaranteed to him by the government.

For now, W. is a "visa runner", but would prefer not to be. He just wants to marry D. and stay in Taiwan, but due to a quirk of the same-sex marriage laws, that's impossible. He's in a position he never wanted to be in.

That's not grounds for an extension or exception as, on paper, W. has no 'reason' to stay as there is no permanent situation available to him.

His visa runs out in 15 days, and he will have to go back to Honduras. After that, he doesn't know when he'll be allowed back into Taiwan, or be reunited with D. to continue their lives together.



Trying to Contribute to Taiwan

A. had been working with an American non-profit and an existing organization in Taiwan to self-fund his teaching of English and Art courses to Indigenous children. When the CCP Virus broke out, both sides backed out, and then the borders closed after he arrived. A. now has 81 days to find a way to legally stay in Taiwan.



The Uncertainty, and the Happy Ending

H. moved to Taiwan with her husband and had been planning to do a visa run to Macau to get a proper visitor visa and get her spousal visa paperwork in order. Now, if she leaves for Macau she won't be allowed back in, and while she may qualify for a special exemption, she's not sure at all.

G., who is British, and his Taiwanese wife had been living in Europe. His job ended, they had no desire to live in the UK especially after Brexit, and have ties in Taiwan, so it made sense to come back now. G. came in on a landing visa, and had planned to get another one after Christmas, giving them time to get the spousal visa paperwork through.

Then coronavirus hit, and their options began to narrow, as flights kept getting canceled to potential destinations. Travel clearly wasn't going to work. At that point, about a week ago, they went to the immigration office to ask for an extension, given the circumstances. Then the travel ban hit, and without an answer they were obviously quite nervous. If his extension were rejected, he'd have to go to the UK to wait out the pandemic, where he hadn't lived in some time.

Fortunately for G., he got word today that his extension was approved and he will be able to stay in Taiwan.

All I can say is,
 don’t assume an extension won't be granted - come up with a good reason and ask. Make sure you have enough time so that they can consider your case. Bring evidence. Get back-up. Fight for your right to not die. 

A lot of people are going to get screwed by this travel ban, but I hope that despite its tough talk, the government will be lenient with granting exceptions to those who have extenuating circumstances. These foreigners are already here, so they are not a risk. They want to build a life here and have the means to do so.

The CECC surely did not mean to tear apart families when it formed this policy; they were trying to do what was best for the country. However, we must ask that they consider the impact this has on foreigners in Taiwan, and re-evaluate their visa extension and exception rules. 

Good luck to everyone. 

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. 

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. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Bad reporting, Han Kuo-yu, and racism against Filipinos in Taiwanese society

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This meme - not established Taiwanese media -  is the most accurate translation of Han's actual remarks that I've found. 

So, I'm sure you've all heard by now that Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu is a racist crapsack, but you might not be entirely clear on exactly how much of a racist crapsack he actually is, because it's impossible to figure out what his exact words were from print media. 

In looking for Han's direct quote, I found three different versions in United Daily News, Liberty Times and Storm Media, and decided none of them could be fully trusted. So, I found a video. Here's exactly what he said, with video evidence:


我想高雄市民跟台灣人民的心理狀態一定很大衝擊,怎麼瑪麗亞一下變成我們老師了?

My translation:


I think the hearts of Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese would be greatly shocked, how can a Maria become our teacher?

'Maria' is a pejorative for a Filipina woman, connoting a woman of humble means who performs domestic labor. It's equivalent to calling them maids - referring to every woman in the Philippines as 'the help'. This particular insult is well-known in Taiwan, where many workers from the Philippines perform blue-collar labor in Taiwan. It's not just a racist word, it's a sexist one too as it specifically denigrates the domestic labor done by foreign women.

That word, "shock" (衝擊) can also mean an assault or lashing - it could just as easily be translated as "would assault the hearts of Kaohsiungers and Taiwanese".

The "...because how can a 'Maria' become our English teacher" is also important to understanding Han's meaning, it implies unlikeliness, impossibility, or mockery. How could The Help possibly teach us?

This is what he means and an accurate translation of his remark makes that clear.

Han goes on to say (from the video linked above, translation mine):


往菲律賓取才我覺得這個在一個克服的過程。... 如果我們從菲律賓引進教英文的師資,高雄的家長能不能接受? 所以我才會用瑪麗亞三個字,來做一個表述,所以我用瑪麗亞三個字不是有其他的意思在。...你為什麼不找美國,澳大利亞,英國的,你為什麼找隔壁菲律賓的?我的意思是說,家長心裡會有一個障礙。可是呢?菲律賓外語人才的輸出,已經很成熟,這個兩個這間,怎麼樣說服高雄的家長? 
Filipino talent, I think this is a process of overcoming....if we introduce qualified English teachers from the Philippines, would Kaohsiung patriarchs/heads of household/old-timers be able to accept it [with the implication that they would not]. So, I can only say 'Maria' it's just an expression, so when I say 'Maria', there's no other meaning....Why don't you find American, Australian, English ones, why do you find people from the nearby Philippines? My meaning is, that's a mental obstacle for these 'patriarchs'/old timers. But? The Philippines sending out foreign language speakers is already very common. Between these two [extremes], how can we convince those old-timers?

This sounds like a reasonable position to take, because it's surely true that there are many racist people in Kaohsiung and Taiwan who would be bothered by or opposed to having teachers from the Philippines in positions of authority and respect in Taiwan, because to them, they are just "Marias".

That doesn't absolve Han of his initial comments, though. First, to say "I didn't mean anything other than that by the word 'Maria'" is about as tired an excuse as "I only used the N-word because I heard it in a rap song, not because I meant something racist."

And it doesn't hold up to even the barest scrutiny as an explanation: he's not quoting anyone in particular when he calls Filipinas 'Marias'. The word came out of his own mouth. He used it offhandedly, like a normal word anyone would use. He didn't adequately signpost his remarks as a quote or description of an attitude, because that's not actually what they were despite his "clarifications" later.

If Han had really meant to describe what Taiwanese think, and make it clear that he disagrees, he wouldn't have said 'Maria' so casually in the first place. This marks him not as an ally, but a concern troll: defending his words as describing what the other side thinks, but showing through his unconsidered language choices that, on some level, he is a part of that 'other side'. Someone who truly wants to change racism against Southeast Asians in Taiwanese society would simply not say "...how can a Maria become our teacher?"

It boils down to his meaning being, "I don't hate Marias, I'm just worried about racism in Taiwan, what with everyone used to them being so poor and being maids and all, it's sad to me that nobody wants those Marias to be their English teachers. I'm just concerned!" 


He didn't say "many Taiwanese unfortunately have an obstacle in their thinking to accepting the idea that teachers from the Philippines could teach them, and that is wrong. We need to persuade them and overcome this obstacle, because there are many qualified professionals, including teachers, from the Philippines." He didn't even say "many Taiwanese think of workers from the Philippines as 'Marias' and that is a problem", which, while a bit gasp-worthy, is at least kind of an accurate description of what some Taiwanese people think.

He said, and I repeat, "how can a Maria become an English teacher?" as casually as an American racist might say "How'd a ________ like her get a nice car like that?" 

(And see how I made it quite clear that such horrid language describes views that exist in the world, but does not reflect my own views? It's not hard.)

At the very least it didn't occur to him that unthinkingly tossing off the 'Maria' epithet might be a problem. That only happens when someone already thinks of a group of people that way, not when they are signaling disagreement or condemnation of an opinion others hold.

And if a leader is caught in such a gaffe and tries to insist that they don't personally feel that way about a particular group, but they're just worried that everyone else does, that's simply unacceptable. Leaders should not inflame societal prejudices, even if they are common; they should be examples of a higher, more forward-thinking standard. 


Let's keep in mind as well that he tows the same 'concern troll' line with marriage equality, saying his real concern is "the next generation" (won't someone think of the children?), not that he is anti-gay, while fraternizing with anti-gay groups


And he didn't even bother to defend his remark until later in the meeting when directly asked about it, or show awareness that 'Maria' is more than 'just an expression'.

If you look at reporting of Han's comments, you get distortions of what he said all over the place (all translations are mine). Some make his wording look a lot worse - from UDN:


引進菲律賓人才,這恐怕對高雄人、台灣人心理衝擊大,因為瑪麗亞怎麼變老師了?
Introducing Filipino talent, I'm afraid (as in, scared - not regretful) that this will be a shock to Taiwanese and Kaohsiung residents, because how can a Maria become a teacher? 

From Liberty Times:


這恐怕對台灣人心理衝擊大,因為瑪麗亞怎麼變老師了?
I'm afraid that this would be a shock to the Taiwanese, because how can a Maria become a teacher?

And from Storm Media, inexplicably making him look better:


韓國瑜認為,確實能夠借重,但必須先克服市民及台灣人民的心理障礙,讓「瑪莉亞變老師」,很多人內心會有衝擊。 
...「我覺得我想高雄市民跟台灣人民,心理一定有很大衝擊,瑪莉亞變成我們老師了,這要克服的過程,這可能心理衝擊很大。」 
Han Kuo-yu believes it is indeed possible to take advantage of /get benefits from [talent from the Philippines], but the psychological barriers of the people of Taiwan must first be overcome - to let "'Marias' become teachers", a lot of people will be shocked.  
"I think / I think that Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese will be very shocked, Marias become our English teachers, we need to overcome this, this can be a huge shock." 

Storm tried to soften the impact of his words by mashing two quotes together - "Marias become our English teachers" and "we need to overcome this", making it seem as though he said these two things at the same time, when he didn't (which the video makes clear by his different positioning). It also erases the "because how can a Maria become our teacher?" by selectively cutting his quote and replacing "because how can..." (怎麼) with "let" (讓) outside the quote marks. 

In English the reporting isn't much higher quality.

From Focus Taiwan, which offers the most accurate translation:


Responding to a proposal that Taiwan could hire bilingual Filipino white-collar workers at a conference on Wednesday, the mayor said employing "Marias" as teachers would be a psychological shock for Taiwanese.

There's also this from Taiwan News, which is far worse but just translates the garbage from Storm Media above but does so in a way that make Han's comments sound erudite in English, when they weren't particularly eloquent in Mandarin:


In response to this, the Kaohsiung Mayor admitted the Philippines’ abundance of skilled labor could benefit the city, but said its residents would first need to overcome some “internal conflicts.”
“I believe witnessing ‘Marias’ become teachers would cause a clash in the hearts of the people of Kaohsiung, and Taiwan’s population at large. This is something that needs to be overcome; likely a huge internal conflict,” Storm quotes Han.

And the Taipei Times, with what I think is the most inaccurate translation:


Han on Wednesday told a meeting of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce in Taipei that he feared that hiring educated employees from the Philippines as English teachers “would cause a psychological shock for Taiwanese, as people might wonder: How has our Maria become a teacher?” 


Focus Taiwan accurately placed the 'Maria' comment within the attitude of Han, which is the context in which he made it, and not as a description of what he thinks other Taiwanese think. The other two make him sound much better than he actually did, and situate the 'Maria' quip not as Han's own word (which it is) but as a description of something he disagrees with (which is not what he said until pushed - which outs him as a concern troll.) Some translations (like Taipei Times' work) add connotations to the translation - e.g. "wondering" - that are simply not there in his actual words. 

All of these seem so odd to me, because the video of his remarks is publicly available. I'm not even a native Mandarin speaker or a perfectly fluent one, and yet I found and translated it with little problem.

So why do some quotes - like Liberty Times and UDN - make Han's remark seem more shocking than it was (and to be clear, it was quite shocking on its own and did not need to be sexed up)? And why do others - like Storm Media - make it sound like not much at all? How is this unclear and inaccurate media reporting of Han's remarks affecting how Taiwanese think about the incident, and is it distorting public discourse?

In English at least, it is having a distorting effect. Several posts on social media have pointed out that Han's remarks should not be considered offensive, because that's what some Taiwanese really think, based on the Taipei Times and Taiwan News translations.

This makes me wonder how can we even have a real conversation about Han's remarks and racism in Taiwanese society if what we read isn't quoting him correctly.

I'm not sure why Storm Media - which I've found to be typically more reliable - made Han look better than he deserved, and why a pan-green and pan-blue rag each made him look worse. But because the inaccuracies are present across the entire media-political spectrum, it doesn't point to an attempt to polarize the Taiwanese political cleavage.

Rather, I think it's just plain old bad reporting.

I'll finish off with something bad, then something good.

Something bad:


Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) on Saturday apologized for a recent remark in which he referred to Filipinos as "Marias," saying the term, considered by many to be a racial slur, was a slip of the tongue.
Han was sorry for the misunderstanding caused by his misuse of the term and said he looks forward to future cooperation with the Philippines, it added. 

No, Focus Taiwan. NO NO NO NO NO.

"Maria" is not "considered by many" to be a racial slur. Jesus F. Christ. It is a racial slur. Period. Han Kuo-yu said it, and only tried to insist it was a description of what other people think after he was called to task for it, without ever explaining why he'd throw it out so casually (because there is no explanation that absolves him).

It was not a "misunderstanding". We all understood him perfectly. People in the Philippines understood him quite accurately. And he didn't misuse the term - he used it exactly as it's meant to be used in racist speech.

Just as when my (dearly departed) grandpa referred to "those people" and then insisted, when I pressed him, that he hadn't meant it as an insult but "they're just a different community", I knew perfectly well that that's not what he'd meant. 


But then there's the good thing: when I moved to Taiwan 12 years ago, I don't know that a comment like this would have caused this kind of uproar in Taiwan. I passed more than one "Foreign Labor Go Home" protest, with old men carrying signs. I don't even know if such language was common then, because my Mandarin was crap, and I never heard of anyone raising a fuss about it.

But in 2019, despite some attempts to justify Han's language, the overwhelming response of Taiwanese public discourse is that it is not acceptable to talk this way, and racist speech and actions should not be tolerated.

If Han is correct about how many Taiwanese might think of English teachers from the Philippines - and he is, for some people - the fact that the backlash has been so swift and damning proves that not all Taiwanese think this way.

That said, it doesn't seem to be hurting his approval ratings, although I have long suspected something is really weird about whatever force underlies those ratings which is propping up Han. 


Taiwan has a long way to go - we need to treat immigrants from Southeast Asia better, end discrimination and give them the same opportunities for permanent residency and citizenship that white collar workers (who are largely Western) have - but this is real progress.