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June 1999, Volume 6, Number 6

Taiwan Immigration Reforms

On May 14, Taiwan's Legislature enacted a law authorizing the Interior Ministry to establish an immigration administration to handle entry, exit and immigration. The new agency will absorb the Bureau of Entry and Exit. The law creating the new agency also establishes a new permanent resident immigration status for foreigners who have legally lived in Taiwan for seven consecutive years. The foreign spouses of local residents and their children, can apply for permanent resident status after living in Taiwan for five consecutive years.

There are 389,000 foreigners in Taiwan, including 130,000 Thais and 100,000 Filipinos. About 17,000 of the foreigners are believed to be overstayers and illegal workers, 16,000 are alien spouses of foreigners, and 20,000 are professionals. Beginning in May 2000, foreign residents will no longer need to apply for travel permits when leaving or returning to the island.

There were 271,000 foreign workers and 45,000 foreign maids in Taiwan in May 1999. The foreigners employed in construction and manufacturing earned an average NT$21,000 ($636) a month, about the same as Taiwanese workers; the foreign maids earned an average NT$17,600--their work days average 12 hours.

Taiwan began to allow significant numbers of foreign workers to enter in 1993, when there were 97,000. New entries are being restricted--only 16,000 were admitted in 1998, and the minimum size of construction projects eligible to employ foreign workers was raised from $5 million to $15 million.

Taiwan is also diversifying the source of foreign workers. Taiwan signed an agreement on May 5 with Vietnam to import Vietnamese workers and maids, adding a fifth source country to Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Between 5,000 to 10,000 Vietnamese workers are expected to arrive before the end of 1999.

The Taiwan legislature is considering extending employment contracts from three years to six years, and allowing foreign workers to change employers. The legislation permitting six-year work contracts would also double the prison term for employers who hire illegal workers from six months to three years, and raise the maximum fine from NT$90,000 ($2700) to NT$900,000 ($27,000). Fines on illegal workers would be raised from NT$30,000 ($900) to NT$90,000 ($2700). The Philippine labor consul warned Filipinos that the extension was not yet approved and urged Filipinos not to pay Taiwanese agents for extensions.

In 1998, Filipinos and Thais topped the list of foreigners deported from Taiwan for staying illegally. Of those deported, 44 percent had overstayed their visas and 43 percent had overstayed and worked illegally. About 12 percent had a valid permit but engaged in illegal employment. There were 244,489 foreign workers, including factory workers and maids, working in Taiwan in 1998, a nearly 10 percent increase from 1997.

"Foreign spouses win permanent residency rights," China News, May 15, 1999. "Officials warn of fake contract extensions," China News, May 21, 1999. Victor Lai, "Law Enacted for Setting Up Immigration Administration," CNA, May 14, 1999. "Taiwan to import Vietnamese workers, maids," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, May 7, 1999. "Filipinos, Thais top list of Taiwan deportees," Kyodo News Agency, May 4, 1999.