Fri, Oct 02, 2015 - Page 11 News List

Live Wire: Hooray! The MoL legalizes open mic night for foreigners — well, kind of

By David Frazier  /  Contributing reporter

Kate Havnevik will perform tonight at Pipe in Taipei City.

Photos courtesy of Stark & Co

On Sept. 18, the Ministry of Labor revised regulations covering public performances by most of Taiwan’s foreign residents, legalizing several new categories of public performances.

The good news is that foreigners no longer need a special work visa — commonly referred to as a “performance permit” — in order to perform music or drama in bars, theaters, cultural venues, music festivals, commercial venues or any other public or private space.

The bad news is that these no-permit-required performances are only allowed if the foreign performers are not paid and no tickets are sold.

How are you supposed to pay for your theatrical production or musical event? Well, that’s still mostly your problem.

The changes come as the result of lobbying efforts by the group Forward Taiwan (前向台灣), which generally seeks to build “a strong economic future for Taiwan through forward-thinking immigration reform,” according to its mission statement.

Forward Taiwan has been lobbying to legalize low-paid gigging and theater by Taiwan’s international residents. The current changes fall well short of that goal, but they do for the first time legalize open mic nights, performances at the Red Room, foreigner-organized concerts and plays and of course singing at birthday parties.

Yes, that’s right! Three of nine newly legal performance categories are specifically related to birthday parties (specifically: in a private home, in a riverside park and in a bar) where it is now legal for foreigners to perform music. This of course means that up until two weeks ago, performing music at your friend’s birthday party was illegal.

I don’t know about you, but I say we can now all breath a sigh of relief that we never got busted for singing Happy Birthday to a friend inside a private home, and we can sleep easily knowing that from this point forward, we can sing the birthday song anywhere, anytime without fear of being deported. Do you feel me?

But please note, if you are going to run out and hold a beach rave with all your English teacher buddies as DJs, and then sell tickets on the Internet, that is most definitely still illegal — unless every DJ has a work permit, APRC or spousal visa. The same goes for concerts and livehouse performances.

According to the new rules, money can be collected at performances in some situations. Bars or cafes are allowed to ask for a minimum charge. Events can sell food and drinks. And performers and audiences are allowed to “share” the costs of the performance, though this is left vague and does not include selling tickets.

“For the time being, this was the best we could do,” said Chen Hui-ling (陳慧玲), a lawyer with Winkler Partners, a firm lobbying for the revisions.

“They [the Ministry of Labor] drew the line at selling tickets at the door. We will continue trying to improve these laws, but change will come gradually,” Chen added.

The revisions were issued as an official interpretation of the Employment Services Act (就業服務法). This new interpretation overturns an earlier interpretation, which ruled that any performance by a foreign national, whether paid or unpaid, would be considered as “work” and therefore require a work permit.

To the credit of both the government and lobbyists, the language of the law calls for an attitude of tolerance. It specifically explains that the changes have been enacted “in the face of globalization, in order to encourage foreigners in Taiwan to participate in various types of cultural exchange....”

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