Mon, Aug 13, 2018 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: Foreign talent not the only solution

The National Development Council on Monday last week released a draft “new economy immigration act,” which would make it easier for foreign professionals to work and gain permanent residency in Taiwan, while shielding the nation’s industry and economy from the effects of a shrinking population.

The council is seeking public opinion on the draft until Oct. 5, following which the Executive Yuan would assess it and it would progress to the Legislative Yuan for review at its next session.

With a declining birthrate and aging population, Taiwan’s population will not be growing by 2025, and is expected to fall below 20 million by 2035 from more than 23 million today, council research has shown.

Moreover, the nation faces the growing threat of a talent deficit — an imbalance between talent inflow and outflow — which has aggravated concerns over the potential damage to industrial investment and economic development in the long term.

The draft act is a response to problems associated with the aging population, labor shortages and brain drain. It originally targeted four categories of foreign talent: professionals, mid-level technical personnel, investors, and Taiwanese expats and their children, but excluded investment immigration over concerns of capital flow management and administrative costs, which are covered by existing law.

Even so, the draft act is a positive step, as it would not only remove more obstacles when recruiting foreign professionals, but would also allow mid-level technicians to apply for permanent residency after working in Taiwan for six years.

The inclusion of mid-level foreign technical personnel in the proposed legislation is a big breakthrough, as it aims to address the serious workforce problem facing domestic industries. Technical personnel includes technicians, plant and machine operators, as well as caregivers and personal-care assistants.

As these jobs are mainly in the local manufacturing and social-welfare sectors, with few local people interested in such work, and the draft sets salaries and other employment conditions of foreign technical personnel, there should be less conflict with the interests of Taiwanese.

However, it remains debatable whether the draft act’s salary thresholds of NT$41,393 in the manufacturing sector and NT$32,000 in the social welfare sector are reasonable.

Clearly, the draft act reflects the government’s effort to strike a balance between solving the labor shortage and protecting workers’ rights. It can also be seen as a continuation of the government’s efforts to solicit foreign professionals and skilled people to live and work in Taiwan as competition intensifies amid globalization, while the brain drain adds pressure on local industries.

Nonetheless, good results take time and the government needs to pay attention to the cultivation and retention of local talent.

Taiwan’s economic structure has been undergoing rapid adjustments in recent years, and the outflow of capital and technology to China has already taken a toll on the nation’s development. However, the nation’s performance is likely to worsen further in light of increased talent outflow due to wages rising too slowly.

While the declining birth rate, aging society and brain drain have produced a shortage of talent, an ever-growing gap between the education sector and the industrial sector to meet local job market demand is also a culprit. Even if progress is made through new legislation, the government’s efforts will not work if education programs do not begin to address industry needs and labor productivity.

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