Fri, Dec 05, 2014 - Page 11 News List

Live Wire: Ease up on foreign performers

By David Frazier  /  Contributing reporter

Tim Hogan of The Muddy Basin Ramblers will perform tomorrow as part of Tiger Mountain Ramble, a music festival at a desanctified temple on Taipei’s Tiger Mountain.

Photo courtesy of the band

A talent competition for foreigners by the National Tax Bureau of Taipei was probably illegal. The competition, held in Da-an Park on Nov. 9, involved public performances by foreign nationals, including singing, story-telling and other entertainments, and offered prizes of gift certificates worth NT$58,000. Yet had any Taiwanese citizen video-taped the competition, called the Taipei City Hall citizens hotline, reported it and offered evidence, government officials would have been forced to investigate. Since the competition did not offer participants work permits, the hapless foreign performers would have been found to be working illegally, in which case administrative processes would eventually lead to their deportation. Who would benefit from this? The citizen who made the report would receive a NT$10,000 reward from Taipei City Government, which offers a bounty for reporting work permit violations. Legally speaking, this is the system that is currently in place in Taiwan.

It is a system that flies against common sense, common decency and common knowledge. For the most part, even most government agencies do not understand the rules involved. When foreign performers called the National Tax Bureau of Taipei to better understand the situation, agency officials claimed the competition to be legal, saying there is a difference between competition prizes and work compensation.

Though this definition is technically correct according to tax laws, lawyers for a local group trying to change these laws says this is not the case when it comes to work regulations.

“The responsible agency is the Work Development Agency (WDA) in the Ministry of Labor,” said members of a legal team, by e-mail, at the local law firm Winkler Partners.

“The WDA issues work permits to foreigners and also has the power to interpret the work-permit related provisions of the Employment Service Act. In the late 1990s, an Interpretation Letter from the Ministry of Labor stated that any provision of services was defined as work, regardless of whether it is paid or not,” the firm said.

In other words, performing in a competition could likely be considered as “work”, even though the prize money is not taxed as “work compensation.” This may sound like legal hair-splitting, but you could still be deported for it.

Performance permit regulations have for the most part not been an issue in Taiwan in recent years, but only because the government never enforced them. This year however, there were several investigations into performances by foreign nationals, especially musicians playing in local pubs for little or no payment. According to the people involved, It is believed that several of the reports were made in revenge, including one by an ex-girlfriend.

Practically speaking, the performance laws were not a problem before, because nobody knew or cared about them. Now however the cat is out of the bag.

Foreign performers have tried very hard to comply, but in many cases they have found the work permit application process impossible. A recent amateur theater production was thwarted when the WDA refused to issue work permits, saying they could not issue work permits because the actors were unpaid.

The WDA, a national-level agency, however does not carry out investigations into citizen complaints — that’s done by city or county government offices. In Taipei, city inspectors have consistently said that any performance, paid or unpaid, is illegal without a permit.

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