Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor and India’s Ministry of External Affairs have confirmed that the two countries plan to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) this month on recruiting Indians to work in Taiwan. While this marks another step in deepening ties between the two nations, it has also stirred debate, as misunderstandings and disinformation about the plan abound.
Taiwan is grappling with a shortage of workers due to a low birthrate and a society that is projected to turn super-aged by 2025. Official statistics show that Taiwan has a labor shortfall of at least 60,000 to 80,000, which is expected to widen to more than 400,000 within six years. Opening the nation to workers from India is one solution to addressing this problem. It would also help deepen economic and other non-diplomatic relations with India — the world’s most populous country and the fifth-largest economy, with its GDP forecast to grow 6.4 to 7 percent this year.
However, the MOU negotiations have sparked debate, as evidenced by a small-scale rally against the plan on Sunday. One major piece of misinformation spreading on social media claims that the government plans to bring in 100,000 Indian workers, threatening national security and increasing the crime rate. The Ministry of Labor has dismissed the figure, saying that the MOU is still under negotiation and that details would be discussed after it is signed.
Statistics show that while there are 18 million Indian workers employed worldwide, including in Singapore, the US and the Middle East, the crime rate involving Indian workers is lower than that among local citizens. For instance, data released by the Singapore Police Force for 2019 showed a crime rate of 227 per 100,000 Indian workers, compared with 435 per 100,000 among Singaporeans. In Taiwan, National Police Agency data showed that last year the crime rate among migrant workers was 59.46 cases per 100,000 people, lower than the 114.12 per 100,000 among Taiwanese.
The National Security Bureau and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have also warned about messages from thousands of abnormal or fake accounts and disseminated by some Chinese media accounts to manipulate public opinion on this issue. These are part of cognitive warfare employed by foreign forces, such as China, to harm Taiwan’s international image and cause tensions between Taipei and New Delhi.
Since the amendment of the Employment Services Act (就業服務法) in 1992, Taiwan has opened its doors to migrant workers. There are currently more than 750,000 migrant workers in Taiwan, with the majority from Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. There are also 2,700 Indian professionals employed in the high-tech and financial sectors.
While the unemployment rate in Taiwan has dropped to a 23-year low and the average annual wage has risen to an eight-year high, migrant workers have played an important role, especially in filling jobs that Taiwanese might not be interested in doing.
As the Indian government has recently signed employment agreements with at least 13 countries, including Japan, France and the UK, a Taiwan-India job pact could provide Taiwan with one more option for skilled and multilingual workers.
The government could start with small-scale recruitment of workers for target industries, on the one hand creating more mutual understanding between people in the two countries while, on the other, accumulating experience to establish more supporting measures to make Indian workers key partners in Taiwan’s national development.
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