Despite the Executive Yuan’s preference to maintain current regulations regarding naturalization in the Nationality Act (國籍法), Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) yesterday said he supports amendments proposed by lawmakers across party lines to relax regulations to better protect immigrants’ rights.
At the moment, foreign residents seeking naturalization must provide documents proving that they have given up their native nationalities, they have no criminal records and “behave well.”
“How do you define ‘behave well?’” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康) asked Lee at the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee while reviewing proposed amendments to the Nationality Act.
“There’s a case I found on the official Web site of a household registration office in which a foreign resident’s application for naturalization was turned down because she was fined for an offense. In another case, a foreign resident was accused of gambling and the prosecutor decided to drop the charge after investigations, but her application for naturalization was rejected,” Tuan said. “Do you find such rejections reasonable?”
He added that he supports the requirement that applicants have no criminal record, but he thinks that the clauses requiring immigrants to “behave well” and rejecting their applications because of minor offenses should be deleted.
“If the judiciary finds someone not guilty of a crime, then the Ministry of the Interior should not act like a religious court and declare the person morally guilty,” Tuan said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) agreed with Tuan.
“The definition of ‘behaving well’ is rather vague and gives the government too much power to decide whether a person is ‘behaving well,’” Chiang said. “I think this requirement should be deleted.”
In addition, Chiang proposed that the rule that immigrants must renounce their original nationalities before becoming naturalized should be changed, too.
Chiang said that he received a petition from a stateless physician surnamed Gan (顏), originally from Malaysia, who had given up his Malaysian nationality, yet his application for Republic of China (ROC) citizenship was turned down and he is now without a nationality.
“Gan ran a clinic with a Taiwanese partner in a remote village in the mountains in Heping District [和平], Greater Taichung, serving communities where medical resources are scarce,” Chiang said. “Later, his Taiwanese partner left the clinic because life was too harsh there, but since our laws require foreign physicians to team up with Taiwanese physicians, Gan was fined NT$300,000 for running the clinic by himself and it was this violation that barred him from becoming a naturalized citizen.”
Chiang said that the case shows how unreasonable parts of the Nationality Act are, in requiring foreign immigrants to renounce their nationalities before obtaining ROC nationality, and considering a minor offense as serious as a crime.
DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) also supported the proposal to void the requirement for immigrants to renounce their nationalities in advance.
“It’s a known fact that President Ma Ying-jeou’s [馬英九] daughters have dual nationality. If we think it’s okay for the president’s daughters to have dual citizenship, why do we try to stop immigrants from keeping their original nationality?” Hsiao said.
Hsiao suggested that the 10-year ban on naturalized citizens running for public offices should be lifted.
The minister of the interior responded positively to the lawmakers’ proposals.
“I totally agree that immigrants should not be required to renounce their nationalities before obtaining ROC nationality. I also agree that the ‘behaving well’ clause should be deleted and as for requiring naturalization seekers to have no criminal record, I am also in favor of disregarding minor offenses, like many of you suggested,” Lee said.
“However, this is only my personal opinion. The Executive Yuan favors maintaining the current regulations, but I will try my best to convince Premier Jiang Yi-huah [江宜樺],” he added.
Lee said that some rules may have been created to prevent immigrants from sharing nationals’ resources, but things have changed and immigrants are being welcomed to make contributions to the country.
“Strict rules will only push talented people away,” he said. “I have foreign friends teaching at National Taiwan University who are not sure about staying, because they don’t want to give up their original nationalities to become ROC citizens. However, if they don’t become ROC citizens, they will not be able to receive a monthly pension when they retire, and the one-time retirement payout of NT$3 million to NT$5 million is really not sufficient to lead a quality life in retirement anywhere in the world.”