Sun, Nov 04, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Leveling the migrant playing field

It was refreshing to hear expert commentary yesterday on a part of the immigration debate normally blocked out by bickering over the ideal number of brides that should come from China: the tendency for governments to treat children of "mixed" marriages -- normally a Taiwanese husband and a Chinese or Southeast Asian wife -- as an administrative problem rather than an opportunity.

Issues of migration are complex and never easily resolved, nor are they reducible to black-and-white categories of right and wrong. In Taiwan's case, there has been a relatively smooth process of adjustment to hundreds of thousands of new residents as Taiwanese men marry women from markedly poorer, non-Chinese-speaking countries.

The numbers are impressive: Three out of every seven children are now being born to a foreign mother; by 2010, these children will amount to one-tenth of the school-age population.

Those inclined to define Taiwan in ethnic terms will be intimidated by these numbers. But there is no reason to feel that way -- as long as the government and a well-meaning population are willing to adapt, and as long as migrants are willing to learn how to integrate themselves and their "mixed" children into Taiwanese society.

Happily, this is an issue on which legislators of substance from both sides of the political divide can unite to develop constructive policies.

The demand for foreign brides is a function of the increasing wealth and urbanization of a society that raises the standard of living -- and increases life choices. Universal education inculcates in all children the principle of opportunity based on merit rather than geography or ethnic group, and from this comes a natural migration of women from rural areas into wealthier cities in search of better opportunities.

For such a system to function properly, migrant women who fill this demographic gap in rural Taiwan cannot be allowed to descend into an underclass.

Basic economics and good governance provide a powerful incentive for the nation to ensure that the productivity of their children as they become adults is no less substantial than that of any other group.

But there is a distance to travel in providing a migrant-friendly environment. Governments and legislatures are all too willing to speak to foreign spouses in a patronizing tone, and this is not helped by labor policies that treat migrant laborers -- the spouses' compatriots -- like second-class citizens.

It is also hoped that reports of husbands refusing foreign spouses permission to attend government-funded skills seminars will decrease. But for this to happen, the government must assume and proclaim that both parties have rights and responsibilities.

There is a strong argument that any mandatory training for migrant women should be accompanied by mandatory training for their husbands, who in some cases do not understand or respect -- and even obstruct -- their wives' legal and human rights.

Other considerations are ideological. If migrants are to integrate properly, it is important that the residue of race-flavored ideology in street signs, company names, government agencies and so on is removed.

We can only hope that mindless praise for "Hua" (, China) or "Han" (, the "Han" or Chinese race) will diminish in school curriculums and streetscapes and be replaced with expressions that do not marginalize minorities.

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