The National Immigration Agency on Monday confirmed that the majority of foreign residents in Taiwan would once again be excluded from the government’s stimulus voucher program. The NT$5,000 Quintuple Stimulus Voucher would be available to 140,000 foreign spouses of Taiwanese and 16,000 Alien Permanent Resident Certificate holders, but about 870,000 Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) holders would be excluded from the program, regardless of whether they pay taxes.
The government has not offered any explanation, but some have speculated that the intention is to prevent migrant workers from receiving the vouchers. Many migrant workers are from Southeast Asian countries and work as caregivers or in various industries such as manufacturing, agriculture and fishing. The desperate plight of Taiwan’s migrant workers — who are paid less than minimum wage, denied days off and often subject to physical or emotional abuse — has received attention in international media.
Migrant workers account for nearly 700,000 (or about 80 percent) of Taiwan’s ARC holders. Therefore, it would come as no surprise if the exclusion of ARC holders from the stimulus voucher program was aimed at cutting out migrant workers. Despite the small share of income tax revenue generated from migrant workers, based on their lower average salaries, excluding them from an economic stimulus program is fiscally unsound.
Unlike the cash stimulus payments handed out during the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan, Hong Kong and the US — from which all foreign residents benefited — Taiwan’s stimulus program uses time-limited, non-exchangeable (for cash), non-refundable vouchers. With the vouchers, migrant workers would be spending money at local, approved businesses, which would be economically beneficial to Taiwan.
The vouchers also have a multiplier effect because they spur spending, which helps businesses thrive, and in turn encourages employment. Foreigners account for about 4 percent of the nation’s residents, and the cost of offering blanket eligibility to all of them would be far surpassed by the economic benefits that their additional spending would bring.
A NT$5,000 voucher would also benefit migrant workers who might need to purchase goods they cannot afford with their low pay, and the government’s image would be greatly improved by the gesture. When the pandemic caused border closures, many businesses complained of labor shortages, and many Taiwanese with family members in need of care complained of being unable to hire caregivers. Despite the way they are often treated, migrant workers are desperately needed in Taiwan, so it would be in the government’s best interest to show some goodwill toward them.
Foreign professionals, who comprise the minority of ARC holders, would also appreciate being included in what should be a benefit for all taxpayers — especially as their higher wages mean they pay more taxes on average. The government has touted its Employment Gold Card program to attract foreign talent, and central and local governments have been scrambling to improve infrastructure toward that end. Excluding foreign professionals from a stimulus program while other countries give their foreign residents such benefits sends a confusing message. Some foreigners might wonder what else they would be excluded from and consider taking up posts in Japan, Singapore or elsewhere in Asia.
Programs like the voucher scheme are paid for with tax dollars, and the average taxpayer pays much more than NT$5,000 over the course of a year, through business, commodity, goods, property, services and vehicle taxes, as well as import duties and more. An NT$5,000 voucher is a tiny break, and the costs of excluding certain people from such a benefit far outweigh the economic and social benefits of their inclusion.
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