Checking the legality of foreign caregivers in hospitals should not be a priority as the nation works to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) reiterated yesterday.
His position was backed up by Minister Without Portfolio Lin Wan-i (林萬億).
“I do not care about the [legal] status of foreign caregivers in hospitals, I only care if they are healthy, if they comply with the hospitals’ policies and if they understand the hospitals’ rules, so that they do not create a burden for the hospitals,” said Chen, who also heads the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC).
“There are different types of illegal foreign workers, but if they are related to the COVID-19 situation, the CECC is not going to interfere with the duties of the competent authority,” he told reporters who quizzed him about comments he made on Saturday, when he said he was opposed to launching a crackdown on undocumented migrant caregivers at a time when the nation’s healthcare workers are already heavily burdened with efforts to contain COVID-19.
An Indonesian working illegally as caregiver on Wednesday tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the nation’s 32nd case and triggering fears that the nearly 50,000 undocumented migrant workers in the nation could create a loophole in the epidemic-prevention system.
The woman, who has overstayed her visa, had worked as a caregiver to an elderly man in a hospital who became the nation’s 27th case.
“I disagree with the need to strengthen reporting of undocumented workers at present. For hospitals, it does not matter if one is a documented or undocumented migrant worker or a family member of a patient,” Chen said on Saturday. “What matters to us is whether they have any questionable travel history, or illnesses, and if they know how to look after the patient.”
Although he “of course discourages” the hiring of undocumented caregivers, cracking down on these workers at this moment would only create an acute shortage of people to look after patients and place more strain on healthcare professionals, he said.
Lin said that migrant workers’ legal status should not be a government priority in its efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and a complete disease-prevention system can only be built when all migrant workers, legal or not, receive adequate COVID-19 information.
Focusing on reporting channels and punishment for undocumented migrant workers would only prompt them to go into hiding rather than pay attention to prevention promotions, creating more uncertainties, Lin said.
The Ministry of Labor on Friday said it that it had created a search system in collaboration with the National Immigration Agency to track down undocumented migrant workers and would soon put it in practice.
Workforce Development Agency Director-General Tsai Meng-liang (蔡孟良) said the system would be able to check the employment or residency status of migrant workers who accompany their employers seeking care at hospitals.
A total of 48,545 undocumented migrant workers were believed to be in the nation at the end of January, with 290 in detention centers, National Immigration Agency statistics showed.
Additional reporting by Lee I-chia
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