What does the Act do?
The main substance of the Act’s 22 Articles is as follows:
The Act distinguishes between three categories of foreign professionals, namely “foreign senior professionals,” “foreign special professionals” and “foreign professionals,” with each receiving distinct benefits under separate provisions. Definitions of these three terms, and of what constitutes “professional work,” are set out in Article 4.
Article 5 separates the work permit application process for school teachers from that for other foreign professionals, transferring administration from the Ministry of Labor to the Ministry of Education, with the aim of encouraging schools to expand their recruitment of foreign teachers.
The Act broadens the range of subjects that foreign nationals can be employed to teach in short-term tutorial schools (so-called buxibans). Previously, such teaching was limited to foreign languages. Now, under Article 6, buxibans may, with due approval in each case, employ foreign nationals with specialized knowledge or skills to teach non-academic classes.
Article 7 extends the duration of work permits for foreign special professionals from three to five years, and provides for the coterminous residence of their spouses and minor children. It also introduces a new provision that their adult children, if unable to live independently due to physical or mental disability, may reside continuously with them, rather than having to leave and reapply for a new visa every six months as before.
Article 8 introduces the Employment Gold Card (EGC) for foreign senior professionals. Comparable to Singapore’s Personalized Employment Pass (PEP), these 4-in-1 cards combine work permit, resident visa, Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) and re-entry permit.
Article 9 confers a tax benefit on high-salaried foreign special professionals coming to work in Taiwan for the first time. For three years, only half of their salary above NT$3 million (approx. US$100,000) will be counted in the computation of their income tax liability.
Article 10 provides for foreign artists to obtain freelance work permits of up to three years at a time.
Article 11 brings foreign professionals under coverage of the Labor Pension Act’s retirement pension system.
Article 12 brings foreign public school teachers under the same retirement regulations as apply to Taiwanese public school teachers. It means that they will now be entitled to opt for either a one-time lump-sum pension payment or a monthly pension, the latter of which was denied to them before.
Article 13 allows foreign special professionals’ lineal ascendants (parents or grandparents) to stay with them in Taiwan for up to a year at a time, matching similar benefits conferred in Singapore.
Article 14 addresses a previous cause of hardship by including the spouses, minor children, and adult disabled children of foreign professionals under coverage of National Health Insurance as soon as they have obtained documentary proof of residence, instead of having to wait six months for this benefit as before.
Article 15 provides for foreign senior professionals and their spouses and dependent children to apply together for permanent residency.
Article 16 makes more liberal provision for permanent-resident foreign professionals’ spouses and dependent children (both minor and disabled adult) to apply for permanent residency.
Article 17 creates a new right for the adult non-citizen children of permanent-resident foreign professionals to apply for open work permits, provided they meet specified criteria for length of residence in Taiwan.
Article 18 greatly liberalizes the rules governing cancellation of permanent residence, allowing a permanent resident to stay away from Taiwan for up to five years at a time without risking loss of APRC.
Article 19 introduces a new job-seeking visa, allowing foreign professionals to stay in or repeatedly visit Taiwan for up to six months for the purpose of seeking employment.
Articles 20 and 21 respectively specify the Act’s application to residents of Hong Kong and Macau, and to citizens who come to work or seek work as holders of foreign passports. Article 22 empowers the Executive Yuan to decide when the Act comes into effect.
Will it make much difference?
Although not all foreign white-collar workers in Taiwan, whether already living and working there or intending to do so, will benefit from this new Act, there are many to whom it will deliver significant benefits. For some, those benefits might be very substantial, and could make all the difference as to whether or not they are willing to work and settle in Taiwan. Together with other measures to build a more business-friendly and more internationalized environment, including initiatives to enhance the provision of English information, signage and services, they should prove to be an important part of enabling Taiwan to compete with the likes of Singapore in attracting the international talent that it essentially needs for realizing the fullest potential of its economic development.
University teachers are among the foremost beneficiaries of the Act, gaining the much improved pension rights that have long pleaded for. In conjunction with the amendment of the Nationality Act that opens the door for foreign professors to obtain ROC citizenship without having to renounce their original nationality, and with the Yushan Project under which the government will subsidize higher remuneration for elite foreign and local professors, it should substantially help universities to recruit and retain high-quality foreign academic staff.
Many of Taiwan’s foreign residents and frequent visitors rhapsodize about their affection for the island, preferring it to anywhere else in East Asia, or even anywhere in the whole world. Taiwan’s gorgeous natural beauty, rich scope for outdoor activities, kind and friendly people, vibrant culture, free and open society, and many other attributes, appeal to them deeply. It’s common to hear long-term residents tell how they came to study Chinese, or for a short work assignment, or just stopping by on a swing through Asia, never intending a protracted stay, but liked it so much that they’ve stayed and stayed, and no long expect to ever leave.
But on the negative side, they chafe at being constantly restricted and thwarted by illiberal laws and regulations, excluded from sharing the rights and benefits enjoyed by local citizens, yet denied a fair path to becoming citizens by naturalization. In the end, many decide they have to leave. More favourable job conditions beckon them to other parts of Asia – Singapore, Hong Kong, China, and the fast developing economies of Southeast Asia in particular – or back to North America, Europe, or wherever they were born and grew up. Those countries gain, Taiwan loses. And usually, their departure is a double loss to Taiwan, for it loses not only the human capital of these well educated, highly skilled and resourceful people, but also loses their family members – bilingual, bicultural children who could be treasures of the future for Taiwan if they stayed.
If this Act makes enough of a difference to persuade at least some of such people to stay in Taiwan, under better conditions for building careers and leading full lives, as well as luring a good many more to come and join them, then it will deliver an ample return for its making. Whether or not it does achieve as much as might be hoped for, it certainly does mark a major shift in a positive direction.
Thumbs up for the Act!
Forward Taiwan, a group at the forefront of advocacy for immigration reform, has hailed the Act’s passage while warning against the danger of backtracking through the insertion of limitations in subsidiary regulations and letters of interpretation. But provided these are drawn up fully in accordance with the spirit and intention of the Act, the result should be a much improved environment and freer opportunity for high-skilled foreign workers in Taiwan.
There is, without doubt, a great deal in the Act for those covered by it to be pleased about. As expressed by Michael Fahey, a long-resident legal consultant who has been closely involved in pressing the case for more liberal treatment of foreign residents and their families: “We are in a celebratory mood – this is the most important development for the international community since the advent of permanent residence at the turn of the century.”