Fri, Jul 20, 2007 - Page 2 News List

New immigrants are not a problem, claim academics

STAFF WRITER , WITH CNA

The increase in the number of new immigrants, most of whom emigrate to Taiwan because of marriage, is a recent phenomenon appropriate for discussion, but not a "problem," academics said on Wednesday, encouraging the public and the government to accept new immigrants with open arms.

The number of marriage migrants to Taiwan has surpassed 390,000 -- including 140,000 coming from Southeast Asian countries and 250,000 from China -- making new immigrants a "fifth ethnic group" that Taiwanese society cannot afford to overlook, said Michael Hsiao (蕭新煌), a researcher at Academia Sinica.

`foreign spouses'

The 390,000 new immigrants, who are often called "foreign spouses," and 330,000 foreign workers add up to 720,000 people, Hsiao said. That number exceeds the number of Taiwan's indigenous peoples -- one of the so-called "four ethnic groups" -- in addition to the Hoklo, Hakka and Mainlanders.

Hsiao pointed out that immigration is a global phenomenon with a record high of 200 million people now living in foreign lands worldwide.

"Taiwan is not alone," he said.

`new chapter'

In Taiwan, Hsiao said, the phenomenon emerged in the early 1990s as more and more immigrants, mostly Vietnamese, relocated to Taiwan through cross-border marriages. But this should be seen as an issue, and a "new chapter" in Taiwanese society instead of a problem, he stressed.

"Who knows? In 20 or 30 years, we may elect a president whose mother is Vietnamese. And believe it or not, new immigrants will have a huge impact on future elections in Taiwan as a focus group," he said.

stigmas

There are still many stigmas to be eliminated in Taiwan about new immigrants, for instance that most children with "foreign mothers" have learning difficulties -- a false concept that has been disproved by various research, Hsiao said.

As one of the most experienced Asian countries in dealing with immigration issues, Taiwan still has a lot of room for improvement, he said. The government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should be offering counselling to whole families rather than individuals, and communities and neighborhoods should play supportive roles.

"I would say that Taiwan's government has been trying to tackle the issue head-on. However, it has sometimes rushed to find solutions. What it should do, I think, is relax and seek to understand the issue before acting," Hsiao said.

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