Taiwan to roll out permanent residency plan for migrant workers, graduates

Premier Su Tseng-chang is hoping that the easing of rules will help the island keep 80,000 seasoned migrant workers and 80,000 of the graduates by 2030. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TAIPEI - In a bid to boost its workforce, Taiwan will allow eligible migrant workers in certain industries and foreigners who graduated from local universities to apply for permanent residency from April.

Premier Su Tseng-chang is hoping that the easing of rules will help the island keep 80,000 seasoned migrant workers and 80,000 of the graduates by 2030.

Currently, migrant workers can work in Taiwan for only 12 years. Foreigners can extend their stay by six months after graduating from local universities, and another six months if they need more time to search for a job or to complete their work permit.

To qualify for permanent residency, migrant workers must have worked in Taiwan for at least six years and must be employed in industries including fishing, manufacturing, construction and agriculture, or are working as caregivers.

They must also be earning at least NT$33,000 (S$1,600) per month or NT$500,000 annually at the time of application.

The first step for those deemed eligible is to apply via their employers for work visas in the category of "intermediate-skilled" workforce, instead of the current "entry-level".

Foreign nationals who complete their studies at a Taiwanese university and receive an associate degree will be considered "intermediate-skilled" personnel once they are employed and earn a monthly salary of NT$30,000.

They will have to work for five years as an intermediate-level employee and earn at least NT$50,500 per month before they can apply for permanent residency.

Indonesian Wuri Pujawati, 37, is in her fourth year working as a caregiver in Taipei.

"When I complete my six years, I want to ask the broker's agency to assist me in applying for the intermediate workers' visa. Perhaps if I get permanent residency, I can bring my son here to stay with me and we won't have to be apart," said the single mother .

Dr Hsin Ping-lung, who teaches at National Taiwan University's Graduate Institute of National Development, said: "Taiwan is doing the practical thing by facing the fact that there aren't enough entry-level employees due to the increasingly low birth rate."

Taiwan's birth rate fell to last place among 227 economies in a 2021 ranking by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency, with an average of merely 1.07 births per woman. This would mean a manpower shortage for the island, Dr Hsin said.

"It's not possible to reject newcomers while the birth rate remains low. I think the (plan) is beneficial and the Taiwanese are generally quite receptive towards different cultures (and their people)," he added.

The government is also worried about Taiwan's brain drain, or the outflow of skilled manpower, Dr Hsin noted.

In 2019 alone, some 739,000 Taiwanese moved overseas for work, many citing better pay and work benefits as the motivation.

Ms Anya Huang, a 31-year-old marketing specialist working in Texas, said: "I'm not planning to move back to Taiwan. Even with the graduate degree I earned in the US, I'll be paid only a third of what I earn here."

Taiwan's National Development Agency predicts that the island will have only 49 per cent of the population in the workforce by 2065, a significant decline from the 59.17 per cent this year.

Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng said recently: "(Taiwan) is losing its trained talent to other nations as our current laws mandate migrant workers (to) leave Taiwan after working here for several years."

As at September 2021, Taiwan had some 690,000 migrant workers and 92,963 foreign students enrolled in Taiwanese universities.

As the island eases its rules on permanent residency, some have cautioned about the possible implications, at least in the short term.

Dr Hsin said: "My biggest concern is that some labour groups in Taiwan may protest (the plan) because it would cut back on employment opportunities for locals.

"But when these migrant workers become a part of us, they are our people, too. Then this would no longer be a problem."

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