Twenty years after the nation opened its door to foreign labor, the number of blue-collar workers from overseas is destined to pass the 400,000 mark this month, making Taiwan one of the world’s major importers of migrant workers, statistics from the government showed.
However, despite the rise, the number of foreign workers in the manufacturing sector has declined steadily because of increasing government restrictions and an exodus of labor-intensive industries.
In contrast, the number of foreign “social welfare” workers, such as caregivers and housemaids, has continued to increase to meet the demands of the nation’s aging population.
The influx of foreign caregivers and family helpers has caused concern as there are fears it may hinder the development of a long-term care system.
As of the end of last month, the number of foreign blue-collar workers had reached 399,749, according to government statistics. Among them, 206,587 were manufacturing and construction sector employees and the remainder were caregivers or maids.
With an additional 3,000 to 4,000 foreign workers added per month, the number of migrant workers is set to break the 400,000 mark by the end of this month.
Taiwan imported its first group of Thai workers in 1990 to help meet demand for manpower driven by 14 major infrastructure projects.
In May 1992, the government promulgated regulations governing imported foreign labor based on the principles of “no impact on local people’s job opportunities and no hindrance to the upgrading of local industries.”
Initially, the sectors eligible to hire migrant workers were the construction industry, manufacturing enterprises, the fishing industry, healthcare institutions and family helpers.
The number of foreign workers in the industrial sector soon broke the 200,000 mark because of booming trade and investment.
In comparison, the number of “social welfare” foreign workers did not hit the 100,000 mark until 2000, when the number of migrant workers in the industrial and construction sector peaked at 220,000.
In the following decade, the foreign workforce in the industrial sector steadily declined because of the relocation of many labor-intensive industries to China.
Amid rising unemployment, the government prohibited construction companies from importing new foreign workers. Over a period of five years, the number of migrant workers in the sector slid from more than 40,000 to fewer than 10,000.
In 2008, the Council of Labor Affairs further restricted the hiring of foreign workers amid a worldwide financial crisis and economic recession.
At the time, only companies operating in “dirty and dangerous” manufacturing sectors were allowed to hire foreign workers. The number of migrant workers employed in the industrial sector slowly rebounded only after the council eased the ban, thanks to a recovery in the domestic economy.
On the other hand, the number of foreign “social welfare” workers has risen dramatically since 2000 because of the continued growth of the elderly disabled population and the absence of a well--conceived long-term care system.
Under pressure from the public, the council largely eased restrictions on the hiring of foreign caregivers and family helpers in 2006. The number of foreign “social welfare” workers has since increased by more than 10,000 each year and the total is now close to the number working in the industrial sector.
As a bill governing the establishment of a long-term care system is still stalled in the Legislative Yuan, the number of caregivers and maids is expected to continue to grow and the size of the country’s foreign labor force will also continue its upward trend.
Council officials also said recently that even if a long-term care system is established, the council would not immediately impose an across-the-board ban on the employment of foreign caregivers.
“We will see to it that the new system replaces the foreign caregiver employment system in a gradual and orderly manner in order not to affect the interests of the 190,000-plus families that now rely on the help of foreign workers,” an official said.
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