Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) agreed earlier this week to assess the feasibility of allowing the agricultural sector to gradually open up to foreign laborers.
The assessment will be conducted in line with the principle that only selected branches would be allowed a limited number of foreign workers to help relieve manpower shortage and upgrade market competitiveness, Chen said.
Chen said at a recent Legislative Yuan question-and-answer session that the council would outline policy guidelines and regulation measures by the end of this year for employment of foreign agricultural workers. The package would then be put up for review and approval by the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) and the Executive Yuan, Chen said.
According to the COA’s plan, only a few branches such as seedling cultivation, tea production, orchid plantation and agricultural logistics would be initially allowed to hire foreign workers.
Dairy farming, hog and goat raising, which employ round-the-clock workers, would be allowed to hire foreign laborers in the second stage.
Chen said the COA still hopes that agricultural sector will hire as many local workers as possible.
“The farming labor import regulations will stipulate that employers would be eligible to hire a foreigner only after they have hired at least four local workers,” he said.
The COA will refer to foreign regulations in drafting detailed rules, Chen said.
Taiwan’s agricultural population is aging; the average age of farmers is 63 years. The low pay and hard labor have discouraged young people from a career in the sector.
Earlier this month, the COA invited Japanese experts in employment of foreign farming laborers to give lectures at major farmers’ associations.
In Japan, foreign youths are introduced to work at its farms during peak season under a system similar to Australia’s working holiday formula.
Chen said if the Cabinet agreed to allow agricultural workers, the source nations would be limited to those which already have working rights in the nation, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines.
Chinese people would not be allowed to work in the agricultural sector, he added.
The CLA said the COA should encourage young people to pursue agricultural careers instead of introducing foreign workers.
More than 450,000 foreigners are working in Taiwan’s manufacturing sector or households. Further liberalization could affect the job opportunities of disadvantaged people, including aging farmers, CLA officials said.