During a media interview, I Jy Sheng Fashion Bakery (一之軒食品) general manager Liao Ming-jian (廖明堅) called on the government to grant long-term residence to outstanding foreign workers. He said that when foreign workers with good moral character and skills reach the end of a maximum employment period of 12 years, they should be granted long-term residence of 20 to 30 years so that they can continue contributing to Taiwanese businesses.
The Ministry of Labor long ago introduced a measure in this regard, namely that outstanding foreign workers recommended by their employers could obtain a long-term residence permit after working in Taiwan for six years.
However, this measure only applies to those who earn a monthly salary of more than NT$40,000, which is far higher than the basic monthly wage in Taiwan and much higher than the average starting salary for Taiwanese workers. Although the ministry introduced this requirement with good intentions, it is more than most employers could afford.
Taiwan faces a serious basic labor shortage. This is the main reason that the number of blue-collar foreign workers in Taiwan has doubled to 700,000 over the past decade.
Taiwanese companies that cannot find enough domestic workers hire foreign workers and spend a large amount of money training them.
However, when the maximum employment period expires, those foreign workers have to leave, while their employers have to recruit and train new staff. This not only wastes human resources, but also delivers skilled workers into the hands of other countries.
Consider the example set by Singapore, where foreign workers initially work on two-year fixed-term labor contracts. After working there for four years, foreign workers are eligible to take qualification exams recognized by the Singaporean Ministry of Manpower.
Those who pass the exam are qualified to work in Singapore continuously until the age of 55, while those who fail must leave after a maximum employment period of 14 years. As Taiwan’s foreign labor policies are largely modeled on those of Singapore, its example could be followed in this respect.
Associations suggest that Taiwan’s government could issue three-year work permits to foreign workers. After working here for six years, they would be eligible to take qualification exams recognized by the labor ministry that would test them on subjects such as language, law, professional skills and Taiwanese culture and customs. They could take the tests at vocational training centers or private institutes recognized by the labor ministry.
If they pass, they would be permitted to work in Taiwan until the age of 60. If they fail, they must leave after a maximum employment period of 12 years. This would enable businesses to retain basic skilled workers without getting stuck on the question of salaries.
Employers would certainly be willing to pay foreign workers according to their skills and ability in order to retain such talent. On the other hand, excessive government intervention would only confuse local employers and cause needless trouble.
Three decades have passed since 1989, when Taiwan began allowing foreign workers, and there are now nearly 1 million blue and white-collar foreign workers in the nation.
However, the labor ministry is still stuck in the mindset of 20 years ago. The Workplace Development Agency’s Cross-Border Workforce Management Division and Cross-Border Workforce Affairs Center are responsible for drawing up migrant labor policies and managing the inflow of foreign workers. Many of these departments’ staff are temporary, and the officials in charge are frequently replaced, so they have little understanding of foreign workforce affairs.
As a result, the existing procedures for foreign workers are complex and time-consuming. There are countless laws and regulations governing the management of migrant labor, but they are hopelessly ineffective. While more foreign workers “jump ship” from their approved jobs to find other employment or stay in Taiwan, authorities have not proposed effective solutions. The labor ministry should review its rigid policies and improve them.
Steve Kuan is a former chairman of the Taipei and New Taipei City Employment Service Institute associations.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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