Taiwanese media have a tendency to employ sensational headlines and exaggerated reporting whenever they publish a story that has to do with new immigrants, and they often pander to the stereotyped view widespread among the Taiwanese public that women who have settled in Taiwan through marriage have the sole purpose of staying here long enough to get Republic of China (ROC) citizenship and the identity card that goes with it. What they don’t talk about is the fact that immigrants through marriage are more likely than Taiwanese women to be victims of domestic violence, and that the families into which these migrants marry are often economically disadvantaged. Immigrant women who apply for protection orders have even been maligned as using it as a crafty shortcut to getting permanent residence in Taiwan.
It is hard for Taiwanese people who have been citizens of this country since the day they were born to appreciate how important a flimsy little identity card can be for a new immigrant. No matter how many years foreign spouses have resided in Taiwan and how many children they have, there are many things that they cannot do until they get an identity card. For example, they can’t get a mobile phone without a Taiwanese guarantor; there is an upper limit on insurance payouts for them; and they can’t even buy a train ticket online. Moreover, marriage migrants who don’t have identity cards cannot sign consent forms for surgical operations for their children or spouse, and if they should be so unfortunate as to become disabled, they are not entitled to a disability handbook or disability benefits and they cannot receive a workers’ pension. Many kinds of social welfare entitlement are strictly dependent on having an ROC identity card, and it goes without saying that without an identity card you have no right to vote or stand for election.
Apart from the everyday inconveniences, marriage migrants who have no identity card are not citizens of the ROC — they are forever foreigners. When a marriage between a Taiwanese and a foreigner breaks down, the foreign partner may have to leave Taiwan. No matter what contributions they may have made to this country or what sacrifices they may have made for their families, foreign spouses whose marriage comes to an end may lose their right to stay here if they don’t have that little identity card.
If foreign citizens want to stay in Taiwan for a long time, they can apply for an alien permanent resident certificate (APRC) rather than citizenship and the ROC identity card that goes with it. However, Taiwan’s permanent residence setup is hollow and insubstantial. Foreign citizens who have obtained permanent residence can continue to reside in Taiwan without getting married and independently of their employment, study or similar status, and it saves them the trouble of having to extend their residence every one to three years. Apart from these advantages, however, having an APRC does not confer any other tangible rights. Since APRC holders are not ROC citizens and do not have citizen’s identity cards, they still do not enjoy the aforementioned citizen’s rights.
Under Taiwan’s existing legal structure, for someone who has not held ROC nationality since birth, obtaining a citizen’s identity card ensures that they can enjoy basic rights and welfare provision. Those who have no ID card have an uncertain status and lack a guarantee of basic rights. The system is set up in such a way that foreign spouses have to try to obtain an identity card to ensure that they can continue to stay in Taiwan and do so with peace of mind. Unfortunately, some families of immigrants’ Taiwanese spouses intentionally keep migrant spouses under their control by not helping them to get an ROC identity card, and this has given rise to many conflicts and misunderstandings.