Showing posts with label taiwanese_citizenship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwanese_citizenship. Show all posts

Thursday, September 26, 2019

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

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Silhouettes of a visitor and a foreign resident in Taiwan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2018

You don't adopt Taiwan, Taiwan adopts you: a book review of Formosa Moon

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I used to believe that I’d adopted Taiwan, but the truth is, Taiwan adopted me, taking me in when I was in my early twenties and giving me a series of increasingly interesting reasons to stick around....Six months ago, I brought the love of my life to Taiwan. The idea was ostensibly to convince her to love Taiwan much in the way that I did. In this I believe I’ve met with some success.

- Joshua Samuel Brown, Formosa Moon 
(by Joshua Samuel Brown and Stephanie Huffman, ThingsAsian Press, 2018 - buy it here - and if you're in Taipei, there's a launch party this weekend)

I've heard people say that the best travel writing to read is about places you've never been: places foreign and "exotic" (how I hate that word) that you know next to nothing about, but come to understand in some small way through a guided journey by the author. If I'd ever quite bought into that, Formosa Moon cured me of it, reminding me that there is an earthier satisfaction in reading other peoples' experiences in places you know well.

Although none of the places mentioned in Formosa Moon were new to me (well, some of the hotels and restaurants mentioned were, such as the Dive Cube hotel), there's a certain beauty in reading about a place you're so familiar with that you can smell the air, see the details of the parks and unkempt sidewalks, picture the mountains, know intimately what kind of trees are growing all around and what it's like to live your life in a series of tiled buildings.

A section of the book takes place at Sun Moon Lake. Been there, didn't love it. Another one describes National Chengchi University. My sister studied there for a year. The Dome of Light? I was there two weeks ago. Tainan? I go every time I get the chance. Jiaoxi? Several visits, soaked in the public hot spring too. Huwei? I'm one of the few foreigners who went to Yunlin for fun over a Dragon Boat weekend just to see what it was like.

But there's something deeper about Formosa Moon that I just get. I think pretty much everyone who's made a life here - that is to say, many if not most of my closest friends at this point - understand as well. Taiwan is like a cat: you don't adopt a cat. A cat adopts you.

You might come here thinking you're going to just "go abroad for a few years" and do that privileged First World thing by teaching English to fund your time in Asia (you're probably not an actual English teacher). You might stay for 1, 2, 3 years: most of the cram school crowd seems to turn over in roughly those increments. Some of you won't get it: the traffic - there are traffic laws, I swear - the pollution, the ugly buildings (you will almost certainly live in one of these), the humidity, the long or weird working hours and greatly reduced career options, the crowds will all collude to gently push you out. Or maybe none of them will, and you'll enjoy your time here just fine, but when the clock is up it's up, and you were always going to return to the place you know is home anyway. Taiwan didn't adopt you. That's OK.

Some of you will fall in love here, or find your groove, or take an interest in Taiwan's unique history, or build a community. Or it'll be the damp hills, the palm trees, the local aunties, the 7-11s, the traditional markets. Or you'll watch a major social movement unfold up close and realize Taiwan is a place and a cause worth fighting for. Something about life here will speak to something inside you, and you'll stay. You probably didn't consciously choose to. You were adopted.

In this way, I found it appropriate that Formosa Moon heavily featured cats, though they popped up in the narrative for no particular reason, and certainly not in any planned thematic way. It just did. From the cats of Houtong (another place I know well, and have started hikes from) to the painted cats (among other fantastic creatures) of Rainbow Grandpa to Joshua's friend's cats which provided a cozy sense of home to Stephanie - the other writer of the book - I found the unexpected feline leitmotif to fit. Taiwan not only adopts you like a cat (or it doesn't), but it can be as cool, beguiling or mercurial as a cat, or as winsome and homey as one too. You know your cat loves you, but you're never quite sure how much.

Or, to put it another way:

Taiwan is kind, to its native born, adopted children, and short-term guests alike. But Taiwan doesn’t change its tempo for you. Instead, you must change your tempo to adapt to Taiwan. And this will make all the difference.

Of course, you get to wax lyrical about all of this because you chose to come for reasons other than making a basic living. Supporting yourself may have had something to do with it, but you could have done that where you'd come from. You're aware that exponentially larger numbers of foreign residents in Taiwan had no such privilege. (You are aware of that, yes?)

All this is not to say that only those who know Taiwan should read Formosa Moon. I'll certainly recommend - if not outright purchase as gifts - copies of the book for loved ones back home who perhaps don't get it, most of whom because they've never visited. It describes the country well, and even the pictures (which are very "homey", not glossy professional shots, which I see as a plus) show in accurate detail what life in Taiwan is like.

As the book itself points out, cities like Kyoto (or Shanghai or Singapore or these days, Seoul) beckon to the Western traveler who is planning their first trip to Asia. Most travelers don't think of "Asia" and immediately think "Taipei". So they don't come, and therefore, they don't know. Formosa Moon, I hope, might tempt some of them into finally visiting to see for themselves why I've chosen to stay for most of my adult life.

And not only that, I'll recommend it for its unique perspective. Every other piece of Taiwan-focused travel writing on my bookshelf is by a white guy. I haven't cracked them all yet, but will. I'm sure they'll be fantastic; people whose opinions I trust have told me so. But, so much travel writing is done by white guys hitting the trail alone, and other narrative voices enrich the genre. I don't think I've seen a travelogue written by two partners in a relationship before, each with views that play off or add depth to the other.

As someone who also moved to Taiwan and then six months later convinced the love of my life to move here too, that appeals to me - as a woman and a person in a committed relationship. Ours took a slightly different route: he didn't know he was the love of my life when he moved here (I kind of did, but didn't tell him so right off), and our relationship evolved here, not in the US. I didn't "love Taiwan" when he moved here: my first six months here weren't that great, to be honest. I am sure I have had success, however, in convincing him to love this country as much as I do. We show it in different ways, but I know.

More poignantly, Formosa Moon captures what it's like to be both in a relationship with a person, and with a country. We never had to face the challenge of Brendan liking Taiwan; he did immediately, on his first visit here. I wasn't sure then how much I liked Taiwan: I didn't decide to make the commitment until three years later. That was when I'd been planning to decide if I'd stay or go; it also happened to be the year we got married. I suppose our somewhat weirdly polyamorous love grew together.

Of course there's a bittersweetness to every love story. You know how they say that in a relationship, someone always loves more, and the other less? And the one who loves less has all the power?

Although I know I can never truly be "a local" (forget not looking the part: it's just not my native culture), I want to stay and advocate for Taiwan, and gain legal rights - not just privileges accorded me out of courtesy as a permanent resident, which can be revoked. I don't expect a perfect life here. It would be nice, however, if in my relationship with Taiwan I didn't always feel like I was the one who loved more. I like to think that by opening myself up to Taiwan, that Taiwan has opened to me a little. I'll never know how much, though.

I'll end, then, on a particular salient quote from co-Stephanie Huffman:

Taiwan and I were certainly friends but had we really progressed to a love state? I didn’t know even know how Taiwan felt about me and I certainly wanted some indication of her feelings before I made any commitments.

Yup. Except I did that thing that relationship advice columnists say never to do: I made the commitment without knowing quite how she felt about me.

Still here though. You see, I was adopted. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

We are the soft power (Part 1)


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

I didn't blog about this until now, because the recording wasn't available. Now it is - you can watch it here (Freddy's reply is in Chinese)., haven't watched it. Why? I absolutely hate the way I look and sound on video (though I tend not to mind photos of myself) and just don't really want to watch myself. Anyway, I know what was said, I know how Freddy replied, and I don't need to watch it again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that's for the next post...

Thursday, November 23, 2017

My latest for Ketagalan Media: we need to raise awareness about immigration reform

I know I've beaten this topic to death, but I don't feel bad about that - as my latest piece for Ketagalan Media makes clear, a huge part of the problem is either a lack of awareness about or a misunderstanding of immigration laws in Taiwan. It's a common misconception that Taiwanese don't support dual nationality. Some don't, but generally speaking the issue is that they're not aware it's not already possible.

If there is one thing I want to drive home, it's this: my beef is with the double standard surrounding immigration laws.

When it comes to dual nationality alone, some countries allow it, and many don't. The key here is that those who do allow it for all, and those who don't allow it for none. Take China and Japan, for example. Those countries don't allow dual nationality either - few in Asia do. However, the same rule applies to those born as citizens of those countries just as it applies to those wishing to naturalize.

Some countries, such as Austria, only allow dual nationality under special circumstances. However, the law still applies to both born and naturalized citizens equally. Although it is unlikely that a naturalized Austrian may be granted leave to retain his or her original nationality, it is still theoretically possible, just as it is for a born Austrian.

The only other exception I can find is South Korea, and as I don't live there and the laws changed recently, rendering a lot of the information online outdated, I'm not even fully clear on that.

While I would not support Taiwan abolishing dual nationality for everyone, if they did so, at least I'd have no basis to complain about a double standard. The law would stink, but it would at least apply fairly to all people.

That, right there, is the crux of the problem, and that is what so few people understand.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

So are we Garbage Foreigners or not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, for now, we can relax. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we valued, Taiwan? Am I valued?

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Our Own Worst Enemies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

My heart is Taiwanese, not Republic of Chinese


I am not a patriotic person by nature. Even when I was young, with flags in every classroom and prints of portraits of the founding fathers in our history textbooks, the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and the generally rah-rah pro-America conservatism of the town I grew up in, I just wasn't into it. I mouthed the words to the Pledge; pretending to go along was easier then. I applied the same logic to religion: after my parents' shocked reaction when I proclaimed my atheism at a surprisingly young age, and clear disapproval at choosing any belief system that didn't include faith, I pretended there was a God all the way through my confirmation because it was easier than fighting people who had no business telling me what to believe anyway.

Being ex-hippie liberal academics, my parents' attempts to make me into a wholesome young woman who feared God, prayed to Jesus and loved her country were half-hearted but sincere. Their worldview was a constrained liberalism that, while openminded, ultimately colored within the lines. In particular, Mom lamenting that she "didn't do enough" to make me into a good Christian and happy, honor-defending American was an attractive but ultimately specious reasoning for my turning out the way I did. There's nothing she could have done. I decided God didn't exist around the time I figured out Santa Claus wasn't real - I told you I was young when it happened - and I expressed a desire to live abroad as early as junior high school.

What I'm trying to say is, this is a pretty baked-in character trait. I see patriotism as a more Earth-bound form of religion: different faiths and their interpretations are ultimately fake lines drawn in the heavens that mean little beyond how they affect our real-world interactions, and patriotism is the worship of fake lines drawn across the globe delineating arbitrarily-decided "countries" which only matter, again, insofar as they affect how we think and interact (or are allowed to interact) as people. The borders themselves though? They're only real in our minds.

When I was younger, my desire to live abroad was a bit more Machine-approved. I'd always assumed I'd do it through the foreign service, international business or NGO work, academia, that sort of thing. None of them were working out - I hadn't considered in my plans that someone who is at best institution-apathetic would not fit in well at a large organization.

Forget chips on shoulders: I had bricks. Packing up and doing it on my own with a few thousand dollars in savings - and let's be honest, a hefty chunk of white middle-class privilege because I can not entirely escape the benefits of institutions - mortared those bricks right up into something like a moveable fortress. But at least they were off my shoulders.

That was ten years ago. Listen to me now, and I sound like a Taiwan missionary. Spreading the gospel of Taiwan to everyone I meet, and probably being deeply annoying in the process.

Have you accepted Taiwanese democracy into your life?

Here, read this article about Taiwan. It will change your life! I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Did you know that many Taiwanese died for the freedoms we enjoy now, and someday the Republic of Formosa will rise again?

If you are interested, you are welcome to come with me to a protest this Sunday.

Okay, I'm not that bad (usually), but I am a true believer.

So what happened? I'm not a different person - I didn't suddenly decide that loving one's country was great and we should all love our countries and place deep importance on national borders. I didn't become a flag-waving, anthem-singing, crying-eagle-meme-posting patriot. I'm still the same old Jenna who doesn't function well as a cog in a corporate (or government) machine, who thinks God is an interesting fantasy, and who wants to keep her American citizenship as a matter of convenience and who has done her best work without a boss issuing commands.

Yet I do believe. As I've written before, I can really believe in a country that, despite having thousands of missiles pointed at it, wakes up every morning quietly insisting on its continued existence, perseveres, builds and improves itself and refuses to be ground up like so much pork filler in China's world-building sausage-fest and has, against the odds, turned itself into a pretty damn solid first world democracy. I didn't want to be a cog in an organizational machine, and Taiwan refuses to be a casualty of the global realpolitik machine. I feel that. I feel it like some people feel Jesus.

As Double Ten Day approaches - celebrating start of the Xinhai Revolution (in China, not Taiwan) on October 10, 1911 - and as the usual array of "Happy Birthday Taiwan!" nonsense starts appearing, it's given me a moment to reflect on how this came to be. That is, how I managed to be so enamored of Taiwan and yet not a patriot.

I think it's because Taiwan both is and is not a country. It is a sovereign nation in every respect that matters: it is self-governed, has its own military, currency, constitution and international relations and flag. Sort of.

It is also not a country in that the government currently in place here is a foreign one. All of the things it has, which make it fully independent, come from a government neither conceived nor formed in Taiwan, and certainly not by the Taiwanese. That government decided back when Taiwan was a colony of another country that it ought to be theirs - nobody asked the Taiwanese how they felt about this. That government has localized in some ways but not in others, and arguably not in a lot of the ways that matter. (To give one example, the citizenship laws were written in China in the 1920s and have not been meaningfully amended since.) This makes it a colonial government. The Republic of China is a country. Taiwan is still under colonial rule, playing host to its foreign master. It is also independent, a situation which is just as difficult to explain to non-believers as all the contradictions in the Bible are, except in this case it's true.

Imagine if the British government lost its territory in the 1800s and relocated to India, and India today was fully independent under the name and governmental system of Great Britain. Imagine if few recognized this government, opting instead to recognize the People's Republic of Britannia in the British Isles, and nobody recognized that India had a right to not only de jure independence, but to have that independence as India, not Great Britain. It's like that.

Imagine if the day after tomorrow was Magna Carta Day, and all of India would have a public holiday and be expected to celebrate the signing of the Magna Carta, and told all their lives that this was somehow relevant to their own history and land.

I doubt if I were an immigrant in that other-universe version of India that I would care much about "Magna Carta Day", nor about "Great Britain".

Similarly, I don't care much about the Republic of China.

Thinking along these lines, I realized that my love - and missionary zeal - for Taiwan has nothing to do with patriotism. I love Taiwan - the concept, the land, the history, the civic nationalism borne of shared values. I do believe Taiwan deserves statehood and I would happily reside in that state, but I doubt I'd ever be a typical "patriot". I love Taiwan not in the way one is taught to love the arbitrary boundaries defining one's world but which were not chosen: the religion, country and family one was born into (though I do sincerely love my family). I love it the way one love's one's friends or spouse (no, not like that, you know what I mean). As something one chooses because of shared values and other commonalities and compatibilities. I will love Taiwan no matter what happens to its national boundaries, although I wish for it something better than what it has now. After all, I was not born here. My family is not Taiwanese, but my friends are.

I still don't dare say I am Taiwanese - a lot of people get the wrong idea, sure, and also on some level I don't think I deserve the honor. But my heart is here.

The Republic of China? That could disappear tomorrow and I wouldn't care. If it were replaced by the Republic of Taiwan, I'd celebrate. Double Ten Day will come and go this year, as with every other year, and I just won't care.

In short, my heart is Taiwanese, not Republic of Chinese.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mythbusting Dual Nationality


When I first moved to Taiwan, dual nationality for long-term foreigners was not even on the radar. At the time, I wasn't too concerned: I didn't think I'd come to care this much about the country, did not imagine I'd stay for more than a few years, and if I did, figured that permanent residency would be sufficient.

Now, it's a concerted movement, and we've even had some victories (sort of).

With this sort of movement, there will always be detractors. The best we can do is defeat their arguments and see that they remain a minority without derailing us. I don't really understand them: it feels like opposing for the sake of opposing, often not really understanding what it is exactly that they are against (this also seems true for a lot of arguments made by conservatives). Immigrants against immigrants for no good reason at all.

In any case, there are a few things that I've heard from members of this camp, and I'd like to gather them all here so that I don't have to keep repeating myself when I see these things come up again and again.

We can't just let anyone fresh off the plane get citizenship!

Nobody is suggesting this - it's a massive straw man. Pretty much every advocate of dual nationality agrees that there must be restrictions on it. A general consensus seems to be 5 years for the APRC is fair (though the "no break in your visa" rule is a bit archaic when plenty of vindictive bosses will ensure you do have a break - how about no period of illegal stay in Taiwan or an easier process for changing jobs that doesn't allow a boss to screw over a foreigner this way?), and another 5 years for citizenship. I would even accept a detailed application process. Quite literally nobody thinks that you should be allowed to just walk off a plane and be granted this.

Even with children who were born here to non-citizen parents, as birthright citizenship is not likely to happen, the obvious solution is to give them permanent residency when one parent gains it, and then the same waiting period for citizenship we all have to go through.

If we hand out citizenship like candy, Taiwan will be swamped! 

Not really. Permanent residency (the APRC) is available to all professional workers in Taiwan now, but very few of them apply - there maybe a few thousand in the entire country who have it. This is because most do intend to only be in Taiwan temporarily, and either leave of their own volition or are transferred out by their companies long before the 5 years' residency necessary to obtain an APRC. Or, they stay but are on a JFRV (essentially a marriage visa), which confers similar-but-different rights.

It is likely that, with so few APRC holders, even fewer would seek citizenship.

Secondly, most people who would seek citizenship are already here. I don't anticipate a huge influx of people. Things would stay more or less the same, except one group of people who has made Taiwan their home will have more equal rights and have that relationship to Taiwan made official. That's all.

Thirdly, Taiwan is an aging country which isn't replacing its own population. I don't think the country can grow safely grow much denser, but in terms of simply maintaining a youthful and productive population, immigration is a pretty clear answer. Immigration would actually benefit Taiwan in this way more than people realize.

Sure, maybe not many Westerners will apply, but we'll be Southeast Asians!

So? Do you think that's a problem simply based on where they come from - like there is a problem with them simply because of their origin? If so, that's racist (no really, that's like a classic definition of racism).

Secondly, I doubt it. Most SE Asians who stay do so because they married locally, and as such have a visa regardless. Something like one in every five children born in Taiwan today has a foreign parent. The connection is real and already exists. Those who want to stay but don't marry are also a fairly small percentage of those who come here to work - most, rather like Westerners, intend to eventually return to the country of their birth after earning money in Taiwan for a few years. I just don't think this will be the problem people imagine.

Thirdly, Southeast Asian laborers working in Taiwan have few rights and little recourse when they encounter problems (which range from being abused by their captors employers, not being paid for work they do (that is, slavery), rape, extortion and more. I can't imagine a scenario where it's a bad idea to give them more rights and better treatment.

Finally, and yes I do think this is unfair, remember that foreign laborers in Taiwan, as opposed to "foreign professionals", do not have the same path to an APRC. Westerners - most professionals are Western, most laborers SE Asian - already have an advantage. That's not right, and I would like to see a change, but the argument above is false simply because this is the way things currently are.

An APRC is sufficient if you want to stay in Taiwan.

No, it isn't. Not when you get old.

A lot of people think we just want the right to vote. In fact, while that matters to me, it's toward the bottom of the list of reasons why I want dual nationality. At the top of the list are all the things I will need to arrange if I am going to live out my days here.

We cannot get a mortgage here - it's not illegal, it's that banks won't lend to non-citizens - but with the amount of money we are able to save at Taiwanese pay rates, we won't be able to pay rent well into our old age. At some point, probably within the next ten years, we will need to buy a place to live. Even if we could rent forever, Taiwanese landlords don't like to rent to the elderly. It's just not a good plan for the future, even though neither of us is very big on home ownership for its own sake (it doesn't seem to be a particularly good investment if that's all you're buying it for, but it does make sense if you are trying to arrange things so that you have a paid-off place to live someday).

I'm not even sure how we would be able to keep our National Health Insurance after retirement, though I am told it is possible.

At some point I am intending to go after a more academic job. These jobs tend to come with pensions, but APRC holders are not eligible for them (I believe they get a lump sum payment which is less than the pension typically pays out).

And finally, although I hope never to need it, if it ever came down to one of us being incapacitated and needing a home health aid, there are subsidies available through the government for citizens that are not available to non-citizens.

All of these things are important if we are going to live here in our old age, and none are possible on an APRC alone. Without citizenship, I've run the numbers and it is not possible for us to stay in Taiwan forever. We are not spendthrifts, and we are not lazy. This is just how the numbers roll out for two normal, non-wealthy people.

It is, truly, a dealbreaker.

You're just selfish, thinking about what you are entitled to. Me, I'm so wonderful, I just want to contribute to this country without demanding entitlements in return like a selfish person, with your selfish demand for "rights". 

It's not selfish to want equal rights and to build a normal life in the place you call home. That quite literally doesn't make any sense. It's natural and normal to want rights, and to be able to live as an equal where you are, if you have been there long enough to put down roots.

In fact, I don't even understand the relationship drawn here. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Wanting equal and reciprocal rights when we've already made Taiwan our home (we didn't just land here and demand them - nobody did, at least nobody sane) is not incompatible with wanting to contribute to Taiwan. It's not like once you want rights, you suddenly don't care about the country anymore, and saying you don't "need" these rights doesn't suddenly make you a selfless martyr for the country.

Besides, I am sure these self-professed angels will be first in line for a new passport if we successfully gain these rights for all. I doubt, then, that they will look back and realize they let us do all the work while they sat around casting aspersions, and they are now benefiting from our activism.

But it's hard for Taiwanese to immigrate to your country. Why do you think you are more deserving?

I won't deny that it is difficult for a Taiwanese person to immigrate to the US and obtain citizenship, especially in today's political climate. However, a path does exist for them which does not exist for me because of Taiwan's laws, not the laws of my birthplace. Besides, it's simple reciprocity: Taiwanese are allowed to have dual nationality, so there is no reason to withhold it from naturalized citizens. Few, if any, other countries have such a stunning lack of reciprocity, mostly stemming from ethnocentric and racially prejudiced ROC laws written in the 1920s.

And yes, I think I'm just as deserving as any current Taiwanese citizen who lives here, works here, participates in society and contributes to Taiwan in whatever way I can. We shouldn't have to give up everything so the church can pay our bills while we work in a rural village to both do good things and also win converts to that same church in order to qualify.

If you really want to be Taiwanese, then renounce your original nationality. Simple! 

No, it's not simple.

Let's set aside the fact that naturalized citizens face a threat that Taiwanese don't, which is that if at any point Taiwan is annexed by China, we will be immediately stateless. I'm setting that aside because, while Taiwanese won't be "stateless", they would become Chinese citizens and that is only marginally better (and quite unacceptable to most Taiwanese), and also because I think it's unlikely.

Instead, let's look pragmatically at what many of us face: in my case, I have a single dad near retirement age to worry about. Taiwanese quite eloquently point out that they don't give up their Taiwanese nationality because they have aging family members in Taiwan they might have to return to look after. Well, it's exactly the same for me. I might have to return to the US someday, temporarily, to be there for my dad. I can't do so as a tourist, if they let me in at all (the US is not that welcoming to renounced citizens) - the length of time I might need to be there is indeterminate, and I'm not rich; I'd need to work. We can't afford to pay someone else to take care of him, either, should it come to that.

I have no real loyalty to the USA, but giving up my American citizenship means quite literally abandoning my father. Generally speaking, Taiwanese are too "filial" to do something like that. Frankly, so am I.

That's not even getting into the injustice of a double standard for born vs. naturalized citizens - someone born here doesn't have to make that choice, so neither should I.

You're a foreigner - why SHOULD you have the right to vote? I wouldn't want a bunch of foreigners trying to change Taiwan once they get political power. 

I highly doubt that a few thousand - and I doubt there would be many more than that - foreign citizens would have any real impact. I'm not even sure we'd vote in a bloc. But even if we did have more power through political representation, so what? So people who call Taiwan home have a say in how that home is governed? Oh no, call the Atrocity Police, what these foreigners are doing by being responsible civic participants in the place where they live is so heinous and unthinkable! Oooh noooo!

And anyway, what exactly makes us foreigners? Two things - the first is that we usually look different and have a different culture (which doesn't mean we can't assimilate and live within Taiwanese culture). The second is that we are not citizens.

So, if we become citizens, by law we won't be foreigners. Most of us can and do live within Taiwanese cultural norms, although mishaps do happen. The only difference, then, will be that we look different. None of us is trying to play at yellow face or pretend we are Asian when we're not, so I don't really see why that matters. We want to participate in a society whose values we share and whose future we care about, that's all.

Are you really saying we don't deserve citizenship based on our race? Do you really think Taiwan is so homogenous when so many Taiwanese children have a foreign parent, and so many waves of colonists have come to its shores? Do you really think ethnic homogeneity is even a reasonable argument?

But what about China? They'll send tons of people over, and many of them might work to destabilize Taiwan. 

I would like to wave this away, but I have to agree it's a very real threat. Although I am loathe to say that there should be restrictions on who has a path to dual nationality based on national origin, in China's case the threat is very real. It's a core threat, in fact, to the very existence of Taiwan. It is justified, then, to not extend this right to Chinese citizens at this time for very real security concerns.

This is just what YOU want, with your WESTERN attitudes about immigration, but Taiwan isn't ready for this and you can't force them, you cultural imperialist!

Taiwan has been a place of immigration for centuries and still is. The majority of Taiwanese have ancestry that did not originate in Taiwan. This is nothing different, and even Taiwanese are realizing that an argument for Taiwanese nationality based on race is not a strong one.

I have never met a Taiwanese person who thinks I don't ever deserve Taiwanese nationality no matter how long I stay. I've met some who assume I don't want it, or I don't consider this home, or I will leave someday, but none who think I shouldn't want it, shouldn't consider this home, or must leave someday.

In fact, the main issue I encounter among locals is that they don't realize we face this restriction. The majority of people I talk to believe that, after a certain number of years, we can become citizens and the only reason we don't is that we don't want to. They are often shocked to find out that that's not the case. Often, they ask why our country won't allow it, and are again shocked to learn that the problem is their own government. All - every single person I've ever talked to about this, and I talk about it a lot if you hadn't noticed - every single one and I'm not exaggerating - has then come out in support of changing the laws and expressed a desire to welcome 'New Taiwanese' to their country. Every single one has said that they believe the criteria to be Taiwanese should be based on living in Taiwan, caring about Taiwan and identifying with Taiwan. Nobody has ever, ever made it about race or Western ideas or any of that.

This is perhaps because this facet of liberalism isn't inherently "Western". It's human. Nobody from "The West" came over and told Taiwanese to think this way. They just do, because they are human beings who have built the most liberal society in Asia.

It's only other foreigners who do so. I am sure there are Taiwanese who also feel this way, but it says a lot for how common that belief is that I have never met one.

Think about that, next time you try to speak for an entire country and get it wrong.

Whatever. You want dual nationality but you wouldn't fight for Taiwan!

You've got that relationship backward.

Right now, while I want to say I'd stand up for Taiwan if it were ever threatened, I have to ask: why would I stand up for a country that won't stand up for me? Why would I risk my life for a country whose government explicitly wants me to remain an outsider?

I'm not even sure they'd let me fight if I tried.

My notion of what responsibilities I have to Taiwan would change drastically if I felt the government accepted me here as a true immigrant, as a new kind of Taiwanese. That's a country I would stand up for.

Of course, there are a lot of other issues to consider here: I'm not a fighter in the traditional sense, I'd probably create more problems than I'd help solve in an actual war-time situation, being someone who looks foreign and isn't really trained, experienced in or even good at hand-to-hand combat (not that I've ever tried - I've never gotten into a physical altercation in my adult life). So if I did stay and fight, how much would that be a White Savior thing that just creates more problems, and how much would I really be of use? The army certainly wouldn't recruit me considering my poor eyesight, age and general academic doughiness.

All that aside, there are things one can do in the event of war that don't involve front-line fighting. Given citizenship, I would do everything in my power to help in any way that I could effectively do so. I suspect many foreign residents here feel the same way.