The Alliance for Human Rights Legislation for Immigrants and Migrants (AHRLIM) has been promoting immigrants’ rights in Taiwan for many years. On Friday last week, three years to the day President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office, the alliance called a press conference to protest Ma’s failure to put into practice his campaign policy proposals about security and equality for women.
During his election campaign more than three years ago, Ma called for a broadening of the conditions under which foreign and Chinese spouses are allowed to work in Taiwan, saying that discriminatory treatment must be strictly prohibited. In reality, however, many cases in which member organizations of the AHRLIM have assisted immigrant spouses show that political slogans about guaranteeing work rights for new immigrant women have still not been turned into political practice.
In 2009, following years of effort by the AHRLIM, amendments were finally made to the Immigration Act (入出國及移民法), to the effect that an immigrant through marriage whose spouse dies, or who gets divorced because of domestic violence and is under a protection order, may continue to reside in Taiwan. This measure does uphold these new immigrant women’s right to remain, but this protection is somewhat devalued by the Council of Labor Affairs’ very strict interpretation of the Employment Services Act (就業服務法). According to the council’s interpretation of the law, immigrants through marriage who are widowed, or whose marriages break up, and who do not have children, do not have the right to work legally. Immigrant spouses in this kind of predicament often complain: “We have the right to stay, but not to work. Do they just expect us to lie down and die?”
Take the case of “Amei” from Indonesia. Her husband was diagnosed with cancer and forced to quit his job, so she had to look after him as well as make a living. After he passed away, the new version of the Immigration Act meant that she still had the right to remain in Taiwan. She found employment in a factory, but when her employer applied for her health and labor insurance, she found she had no right to work. The reason given was that her purpose of residence in Taiwan, as noted on her resident certificate, had been changed from “joining family” to “other.” Because of this, and because she had no children in Taiwan, she was not allowed to work, according to the law.
Another example is that of “Yuhua” from Thailand. After Yuhua’s husband died, she had the right to remain in Taiwan but not to work legally. Yuhua earned a living as a sales assistant, selling fish at a wet market. Although the work was irregular, with meager pay and no labor or health insurance coverage, Yuhua thought that, because her husband was dead and she had no citizen’s identity card, she would have to make do by selling her labor, earning just enough to make ends meet for herself and her child.
Although Yuhua had a child and could have applied for a work permit to work legally, she was put off by the complicated application procedure and a prejudice against immigrants in Taiwanese society. So she didn’t apply for a work permit for a long time.
The right to work for immigrants who settle in Taiwan through marriage has improved bit by bit, but only as a result of repeated protests. Previously foreign spouses who had not obtained citizenship were treated the same as foreign workers, in that they only had the right to work if their employers applied for a work permit for them and the permit was approved.