Bountiful South: Beauty without borders

By Liam Gibson  /  Contributing reporter

Tue, Jun 12, 2018 - Page 13

When Nguyen Thi Bich Lieu left Vietnam 18 years ago to join her husband and start a new life in Taichung, she never imagined that she’d one day return to manage four stores for Taiwan’s biggest skincare brand, Chlitina, part of the company’s push into Southeast Asia.

What’s more, since joining Chlitina four years ago, Nguyen has purchased two properties, attaining a level of economic mobility that remains out of reach for many new migrants.

“I don’t know where I’d be without this opportunity,” she says.

Finding meaningful and secure work in their new home country is an ongoing challenge for many of Taiwan’s Vietnamese migrant spouses, which now number over 100,000. Yet with companies like Chlitina, whose sales team is 10 percent Vietnamese, now placing the country as a focal point in their southward expansion plans, there are growing opportunities for this community to leverage their cultural and linguistic background to launch new careers, achieving economic and social mobility.

As more Taiwanese companies expand into Southeast Asian markets, unique work opportunities for migrant spouses are on the rise. To meet the needs of industry as well as individuals, more must be done to remove existing obstacles to migrant spouses’ economic mobility, especially in education. While many policies have focused on the development of their offspring, it is crucial not to overlook the contribution migrant spouses themselves can make to not only the New Southbound Policy but the nation’s broader economy.

‘FOLLOW HER OWN PATH’

While Nguyen, and her colleague Tran Thi Phuong Lien, say that economic factors were a strong motivation for migrating to Taiwan, they spent many years working low-paid labor intensive jobs before they found better opportunities.

From a family of five children, Nguyen says she remitted most of her salary from her first job in an assembly line to get her siblings through school.

Tran, who also migrated to Taiwan in 2000, says she used to sweep floors for a living which damaged her skin and took a toll on her health.

“I wanted to look after my looks and find my own direction and joining Chlitina allowed me to do both of those things,” Tran says.

“I didn’t want to simply give up on myself and stay at home,” Nguyen said. “Every woman ought to be empowered to follow her own path, and feel beautiful doing so.”

Nguyen and Tran are a part of a first wave of Vietnamese employees now setting up stores across their home country, part of Chlitina general manager Kao Shou-kang’s (高壽康) strategy for the company’s Southeast Asian expansion.

Kao says the Vietnamese employees are a unique asset for the company and will be indispensable to its growth in the region.

Kao adds that the company currently operates 10 salons in Hanoi, five in Ho Chi Minh City and five across other parts of the country, with more planned for the year ahead.

Nguyen and Tran both say that while a wide range of skincare products are available in Vietnam, many consumers don’t know proper application methods and often misuse them, leading to skin damage.

“Educating Vietnamese consumers is where we can make the biggest difference,” Tran says.

LEARN TO EARN

Tran says it is the training she has received from Chlitina that has equipped her with the skills needed for career advancement, something she says other Vietnamese spouses lack.

Tran says that while job opportunities for the diaspora have increased substantially since she first came to Taiwan almost 20 years ago, the range of roles remains restricted. Tran adds very few make managerial positions due mainly to lower education levels as well as limited Chinese writing skills.

According to the last survey of Taiwan’s new migrant spouses, only 64.7 percent are employed. Of those employed, 37.9 percent are manufacturing industries and 3.2 percent in service industries.

Lee Lin-feng (李臨鳳), head of the Immigration Agency’s Immigration Affairs Division, says there are several programs afoot aimed at supporting and increasing skills for the country’s new migrants.

Lee says the New Migrant Development Fund (新住民發展基金), with an annual budget of NT$300 million, is behind the recent Make a Dream Plan (築夢計畫), through which migrants can receive NT$6,000 to NT$10,000 per year to kick start their business.

Vocational training programs run by the Ministry of Labor are also available through the fund, issuing industry-approved qualifications upon completion, with courses up to tertiary-level training.

Lee says creating these pathways is crucial because qualifications remain a major obstacle for migrants looking to enter white collar professions. She gives the example of Filipino spouses, many of whom are university graduates and speak perfect English, but are unable to work as English teachers in training centers because the Ministry of Education doesn’t recognize qualifications from many Filipino universities.

Lee says many new migrant spouses, 92 percent being women, also face resistance from in-laws who often expect them to look after their partner’s parents as well as children.

“This is why many choose to run a small-scale business they can run from home, such as making food products or handmade crafts,” she says.

She adds that while some Taiwanese families may take issue with spouses relocating back to their home country in managerial positions, perceptions of the role of spouses are now changing.

“We must encourage Taiwanese in-laws to be more flexible and promote greater mobility for spouses,” she says.

Bountiful South is a fortnightly column that covers Taiwan’s cultural, diplomatic, business and tourism connections with New Southbound Policy nations. Liam Gibson is a freelance reporter based in Taipei, where he researches regionalism as a postgraduate student at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of National Development. You can reach him at liamtaipei@gmail.com