Sociologists mull migration policy

COMING AND GOING: The Control Yuan is exploring what kind of society the nation wants now that hordes of people from other countries are migrating to Taiwan

By Fiona Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Jul 20, 2003 - Page 3

The government should map out a long-term immigration policy based on a vision of what kind of multicultural society the country might want, sociologists suggested in a seminar this week.

"A vision shared by the majority of people in this country about the make-up of a future multicultural society should be the goal that the government's immigration policy should work toward," said Kung I-chun (龔宜君), director of the Graduate Institute of Southeast Asian Studies at Tamkang University.

Kung made the remarks at a Control Yuan seminar on formulating immigration policy.

Two Control Yuan members, Huang Huang-hsiung (黃煌雄) and Lee Shen-yi (李伸一), recently initiated a survey to review immigration policy and management. The seminar was the first of a series of consultation meetings to be held over six months.

"Envisioning a prospective multicultural society will help us to decide whether the country needs to modify its regulations on immigrants," Kung said.

"In other words, the vision will help remind us whether Taiwan wants a future where Chinese-born people make up the majority of the country's population, as foreign wives from China make up the majority of migrants at the moment," Kung said.

She said laws would need to be modified when a vision of the country shared by most nationals is a multicultural community and not a Chinese-dominated one.

Nonetheless, statistics indicate that the country is rapidly becoming a multicultural society, with 240,000 spouses from China and other Southeast Asian countries having settled in Taiwan.

Kung said that these spouses had produced around 112,000 offspring between 1998 and last year, producing a new generation of mixed-blood Taiwanese.

Moreover, relatives of non-Taiwanese spouses can file for residency in Taiwan, she said.

The sociologist said that the government and people of Taiwan did not really understand the cultures and customs of the newcomers from Southeast Asia.

A lack of consideration about the culture shock that these newcomers might suffer on arriving here is one of several difficulties they face in adjusting to Taiwanese society, Kung said.

She advised Taiwanese husbands of foreign wives to shoulder the responsibility for helping them get accustomed to life here.

While Chinese-language classes have been offered to immigrants in many parts of Taiwan, orientation courses about their home countries and cultures are necessary to help their Taiwanese husbands understand them, Kung said.

She added that a comprehensive migrant policy should also be created for Taiwanese emigrants.

"We recommended setting up a government administration to help and manage emigrants around the world after we heard the experience of Taiwanese businesspeople and emigrants to Southeast Asia," she said.

Government agencies, such as the Immigration Department, should work to make rules for people who want to return from China and other countries and facilitating their resettlement in this country, Kung said.

Tsay Ching-lung (蔡青龍), a research fellow from the Academia Sinica, said that foreign wives and economic immigrants are the two main groups of immigrants in Taiwan.

The Council for Economic Planning and Development forecasts that Taiwan's labor force will begin to shrink in 2012 and the number of native laborers in 2033 will be lower than it is now, Tsay said.

"The importation of 300,000 foreign laborers shows that recruiting overseas workers will be a permanent feature of the domestic labor market. But the government needs to map out a plan to attract more foreign manpower, other than blue-collar workers, to help the country upgrade its international competitiveness," he said.

It is imperative to study the incentives needed to attract international managers to this country as well as discussing institutionalizing regulation of migrant workers, the research fellow urged.

Sociologist Lan Pei-chia (藍佩嘉) echoed Tsay's view by giving weight to migrant laborers' human rights.

"The 300,000 migrant workers who have come to Taiwan since the 1990s prove that importing foreign workers will be a permanent feature of this country. This fact makes a debate about giving these people permanent citizenship possible," Lan, an assistant professor at National Taiwan University, said.

Lan said it was time for the country to review its treatment of migrant workers.

Lan predicted that the discussion would widen into a debate about whether migrant workers should enjoy the same freedom and respect that Taiwan offered other foreign employees such as English teachers or managers, including the flexible quotas and conditions for applying for citizenship.

"But that is not an excuse to play down such a debate since the country needs to update its ideas on providing legal protection to these workers' social and economic rights," Lan said.