A policy announced this month giving Russians visa-free entry for up to 14 days, like similar privileges granted to other nations, is designed to boost tourism. However, it is important not to let misconceptions put a damper on a well-intended measure.
Shortly after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the one-year trial on Sept. 6, media outlets expressed concern that the policy could bring more Russian prostitutes to Taiwan.
Such reactions are common when the government grants visa-waiver privileges to people from countries toward which Taiwanese are prejudiced, most notably Southeast Asian nations covered by the New Southbound Policy.
To boost tourism to Taiwan and facilitate people-to-people exchanges between this nation and those covered by the New Southbound Policy, the government in August 2016 granted visa-free entry to Thai and Bruneian nationals on a trial basis and to Philippine nationals in November last year.
Those trial periods were in July extended for another year due to the success in attracting more tourists from the three nations.
Tourism Bureau statistics show that the number of Thai visitors to Taiwan rose from 124,409 in 2015 to 292,534 last year. The number of visitors from the Philippines jumped by more than 150,000 over the same period, from 139,217 in 2015 to 290,784 last year.
While the growth in visitor numbers from Southeast Asia is a cause for celebration for many, especially as the tourism industry has taken a hit after Beijing reduced the number of Chinese visitors to Taiwan since the Democratic Progressive Party administration took office in 2016, for some it has been a cause for worry — often due to ethnicity-based prejudices.
Discrimination against Southeast Asians has always been a huge problem in Taiwan and might be among the key reasons for the mistreatment of migrant workers from the region. There is a deeply ingrained misconception that Southeast Asians are more likely to commit crimes, and pose a threat to social stability and public safety.
However, official statistics tell a different story.
Ministry of Labor data show that there were 676,142 migrant workers from Southeast Asia in Taiwan last year, of which 1,850, or about 0.27 percent, were convicted of a crime
That means only 2.7 out of 1,000 Southeast Asian migrant workers broke the law last year, as opposed to the 12.46 out of every 1,000 Taiwanese that did so, according to National Police Agency data.
Although more Thai women have been arrested for acts of indecency since the introduction of visa-free privileges — 309 last year, compared with three in 2015, according to National Immigration Agency data — that number translates to 1.06 out of 1,000 Thai visitors last year.
There are always risks to opening the door to outsiders, but it is unwise to blow fears based on discrimination or misconceptions out of proportion.
Instead, the situation should be rationally assessed and measures put in place to make sure that the upsides of visa waivers continue to outweigh the downsides.
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