Johnny Neihu's Mailbag

One very irritated reader takes Taiwan's immigration regulations to task, asking why the red carpet for foreign professionals is rolled up the moment they apply for a work visa.

Sat, Oct 28, 2006 - Page 8

The visa system stinks

Dear Johnny,

I read with some amusement the story in the Taipei Times about the mission led by Minister Without Portfolio Lin Ferng-cheng (林逢慶) to the US ("Taiwan delegation seeking high-tech talent in the US," Sept. 11, page 12).

Oh, the absurdity of the time and money spent by the government in touring Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Boston and New York trying to attract talent.

From the article: "Lin said that Taiwan needs more overseas professionals to participate in a project aimed at building the country into an `innovation, research and development center in the Asia-Pacific region' by 2008."

Well, the first thing you need to do to attract talent is not treat them like criminals the second they step foot on Taiwanese soil.

I am referring to the government's visa and work permit policies.

According to the American Institute in Taiwan's Web site (the government's Bureau of Consular Affairs' Web site is next to useless on the subject), a person must apply for a 60-day visitor's visa in order to enter Taiwan.

Once in the country, the employer applies for the work permit (and has control of it -- more on that later) for the employee. The work permit takes an average 60 days to be issued and, from what I have read in other places, sometimes longer depending on the department that issues it. For those 60 days, the "employee" is not allowed to work, or else he faces possible arrest and deportation.

Seeing as the average time to grant a work permit is 60 days, that's cutting it awfully close. The "employee" can file for an extension but there is no guarantee it will be granted.

Once the employee has a work permit, he must file for a resident's visa. Once this visa is granted, he must apply for an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC). Now, if the person enjoys Taiwan and wishes to make it his home, after seven years (five if married to a Taiwanese), he may apply for permanent residency. However, for the rest of his life, if he stills want to work he has to continue to apply for work permits. Of course, every permit and visa application carries a fee.

One more thing about work permits. As mentioned before, the company, not the employee, owns the permit. This results in a form of servitude, because if the company does not keep the promises it has made to the employee when hiring him, the employee can't simply quit and seek employment elsewhere. If he quits or is fired -- which the company can do at will -- he has seven days to leave the country. If you are not married to a Taiwanese and your contract is up, you must leave the country within seven days.

That's hardly enough time to interview with another company and be hired to avoid deportation.

So on the one hand the government is trying to lure professionals to Taiwan (the worst treated are those who want to teach English, another national priority), but on the other hand they are slapping professionals in the face once they arrive.

In essence, the government is saying:

1. Come to our country, but don't try to earn any income for two months. If you dare try to earn some money to feed or house yourself -- jail time and deportation.

2. If you like Taiwan and wish to make it your home, you will always be in servitude to your employer.

When will the government learn that the way to attract people is to treat them well and give them incentives to want to come to their country instead of antagonizing them?

What the government needs to do is revise its visa and work permit rules for professionals who want to work in the country. A very simple thing it could do is issue a conditional work permit on issuance of the visitor's visa so that the person can go to work immediately without fear of breaking the law. After all, isn't that why the government wants them there?

Mike Cunningham

Greenville, South Carolina

Johnny replies: Believe me, I sympathize with you and understand the frustrations of people in your position. All I can say is keep writing to let the authorities know of your concerns. Also, please give us some credit: We're still shaking off the residue of martial law and that takes time, especially when it comes to bureaucrats and government regulations.