Recent comments by Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam about Taiwan’s brain drain resonated with government officials and lawmakers yesterday, with Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) saying that the observation was “worthy of reflection.”
“We have also noticed a brain drain problem. That is why the Executive Yuan has a set of policies in place to help cultivate, educate and retain talent in Taiwan,” Chen said.
In a speech at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum on Thursday in Singapore, Shanmugaratnam said his country risked becoming a “Taiwan story” and would lose its competitive edge globally if it closed its doors to talented individuals from overseas.
Citing a recent survey by the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, which showed that the the average income for Taiwanese had been flat for more than a decade, Shanmugaratnam said that the talent migration from Taiwan was a result of its “closed-door” policies on foreign workers.
The deputy prime minister said that if corporations were not given the opportunity to establish themselves in Singapore to help create a competitive environment — and give Singaporeans the best teams to work with — the city-state would face another “Taiwan story.”
Chen yesterday said he has a very high opinion of Shanmugaratnam because the politician is well regarded in the international financial community and has played a key role in organizations such as the IMF.
“He [Shanmugaratnam] always sees things through. A case in point was his proposal last year to establish an offshore renminbi trading center in Singapore. He is known as a visionary,” Chen said, adding the deputy prime minister’s comments about Taiwan would serve as an important reference point for Taiwan’s policymaking.
Separately yesterday, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus whip called a press conference attended by officials from the Council of Economic Planning and Development, National Science Council, Council of Labor Affairs and the Ministry of Education to address the brain drain issue.
Council of Labor Affairs Deputy Minister Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉) echoed Shanmugaratnam’s concern about Taiwan’s talent drain, but said he disagreed with him on the causes of the problem.
Pan said Shanmugaratnam made the comments amid a background of complaints about Taiwanese being squeezed out of the white-collar job market by workers from overseas, who might not have a sufficient understanding of the situation in Taiwan.
Pan said that for a person from overseas to work as a professional in Taiwan, they must have at least two years work experience, a regulation that is less strict than in South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand, and would have a minimum salary of NT$47,971 (US$1,624).
It is not the government’s policies that have led to the brain drain, but Taiwan’s “comparatively low wage levels,” which have failed to retain local talent or attract professionals from overseas, Pan said.
While the average starting pay for new graduates in Taiwan is between NT$20,000 and NT$30,000, “a Taiwanese college graduate may earn NT$50,000, NT$60,000 or even NT$70,000 if they work in Singapore,” he said.
“The problem lies with enterprises who are unwilling to raise salaries for their staff members,” Pan said.
However, Pan said the council was considering removing the two-year work experience requirement so that foreign college students studying at tertiary institutions in Taiwan could work in the country after graduation.