Tibetans living in exile in Taiwan without legal status may soon be granted Alien Resident Certificates (ARC) after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislative caucuses yesterday reached an agreement on revising the Immigration Act (入出國及移民法).
“This is a big day for our country, that lawmakers belonging to different political parties could work together and stand behind the universal values of human rights,” DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) told a news conference at the Legislative Yuan after negotiators from the two parties reached a consensus.
“I would like to extend a warm welcome — on behalf of all Taiwanese — to you, and apologize that it took such a long time,” Tien said to Tibetan representatives who attended the press conference.
According to the amendment, Tibetans who came to Taiwan between 1999 and the end of last year on Indian or Nepalese passports can be issued ARCs after the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission (MTAC) confirms their identities.
Last month, a group of more than 100 Tibetans who came to Taiwan between five and six years ago on forged Indian and Nepalese passports staged a sit-in at Liberty Square in Taipei, pleading for the government to grant them asylum.
After several rounds of negotiations, the government agreed to revise the Immigration Act to grant them residency and issue temporary ARCs until the law is changed.
“The revision will be passed before the legislature goes into recess next Tuesday if nothing goes wrong,” Tien’s office said.
Kunsang Lhundup, a Tibetan who has lived in Taiwan without legal status for six years, said he was excited to hear the news.
“I feel like a dream is about to come true,” he said.
The Tibetans are to be issued temporary ARCs today.
But not everyone welcomed the decision.
“We cannot keep making exceptions for different groups of people — laws have to be applicable to all,” an official involved in handling the Tibetan case told the Taipei Times via telephone on condition of anonymity.
“If we make exceptions for this or that group, why can’t other groups ask for exceptions later on?” the official said. “Why do we need an Immigration Law at all?”
The official added that a more reasonable solution to such cases would be to create a refugee bill.
A Tibet support activist who wished to remain anonymous also spoke out against the revision.
“Article 16 of the Immigration Act falls under the chapter that deals with Republic of China [ROC] nationals, while immigration issues related to foreigners are in the next chapter,” the activist said. “So taking care of the Tibetans’ problem by revising Article 16 of the law means that the Tibetans are considered ROC nationals in exile by the government.”
The activist, who supports Tibetan independence, therefore considers accepting the revision a betrayal to the Tibetan cause.
“It shows that MTAC is still handling the case within the outdated greater ROC framework,” the activist said.