Foreigners right to public performance has suddenly become a major issue among Taipei’s expatriates, since two music venues received summons from the Department of Labor (DOL) to explain performances by foreign musicians within the last month. Expat musicians and theater troupes are clearly worried. Performances have been cancelled or postponed. The looming questions are: How does one perform legally? And if I am caught performing, will I be deported?
To those worried about the deportation issue, my quick answer — to paraphrase Hamlet — is as follows: All is not well. Don’t worry.
If you have an APRC (alien permanent resident certificate) or a spousal visa, you are fine. Perform away. You are legal. If not, yes, you could be deported, even if the gig is unpaid. Unfortunately, that is the law. In the last decade, there are a handful of examples of foreigners who have been kicked out of Taiwan for performing without a work permit. It probably won’t happen, but it could happen.
To be on the safe side, I would recommend applying for performance permits, especially in the case of events with a reasonable amount of publicity, including on Facebook. This can be done through The Workforce Development Agency (www.wda.gov.tw; tel: 02-8995-6000), though do not expect to find any relevant English info on their Web site.
What is the danger? Is there a sting going on? That is more difficult to say.
The authorities maintain that in the two recent cases, they are simply reacting to complaints. They have not demonstrated a strong desire to exact harsh punishments.
One of the cases involved New Zealander Greggory Russell, who organized a performance of three expat bands on May 24 at The Park, a local live house. Russell has been in Taiwan for more than a decade, frequently moonlighting as a drummer, event organizer and promoter.
According to Russell, the complaint was made two days before the show, and Department of Labor investigators were secretly in the audience. Investigators however did not interfere with the show or conduct any on-site ID checks or inspections. Days later they contacted Russell and The Park’s management to come in and provide an explanation. ID copies of several legal performers (APRC holders) were provided, and the investigation was quickly closed, wrapping up two days ago.
“The case manager was really helpful and it seems like she just wants to close this case ASAP,” said Russell. “She said they have known about this for years, but have never warranted it as a major importance. They don’t really want to make this trouble for us.”
One can imagine a mass deportation of English teachers — who also happen to be amateur musicians — would make a juicy news story, one that may not look good for the authorities. The recent case of Krystyna Jensen tells us as much. Visa regulations left Jensen unable to stay in Taiwan upon college graduation, even though she had lived most of her life here and both parents were legal (foreign) residents. The story of Jensen’s impending family breakup hit the news, and regulations were amended within months, allowing the girl to stay.
The case of musicians is not as compelling, though similar in principle. Amateur musicians are usually community members in good standing, often teachers, who also happen to enjoy playing music to a few dozen of their friends on weekends, generally for little or no money. Should Taiwanese authorities kick them out en masse for their favored pastime?