Labor supply in the construction industry is stable and the Ministry of Labor is studying the implications of opening up to workers from India, Minister Without Portfolio Wu Tze-cheng (吳澤成) said yesterday.
Taiwan and India are reportedly planning to ink a memorandum of understanding before the end of the year to bring in more Indian workers to help address a labor shortage.
The announcement has caused a backlash from people concerned about job opportunities and safety, with a demonstration planned for Sunday.
Premier Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) has previously called for a study of job vacancies before deciding which industries would accept more migrant workers from India.
The ministry has also said it would impose a quota, which could be increased depending on the results, in response to international media reports that Taiwan could allow upward of 100,000 workers from India.
At a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee yesterday, lawmakers asked Wu, who chairs the Public Construction Commission, whether a study had been conducted.
Wu said that he trusts the ministry to ensure it has a thorough understanding of the labor environment before moving forward with any policy.
Construction is not the only industry open to migrant workers, he said.
However, limits on migrant workers in the industry have historically led to severe labor shortages, which policies have been steadily working to ameliorate, he said.
The maximum has already been increased from about 4,000 to nearly 20,000, stabilizing labor supply in construction, he said.
Moreover, the rules have been eased for which public projects are allowed to hire migrant workers, he said, adding that projects valued at above NT$100 million (US$3.2 million) are now eligible, down from at least NT$10 billion previously.
For private projects, the ministry earlier this year announced a program to allow developers to conditionally hire additional migrant workers, with applications received for more than 15,000 workers, Wu said.
Separately yesterday, National Tsing Hua University Center for India Studies deputy director Fang Tien-sze (方天賜) said it is a shame that the conversation is focused on migrant workers when the government should be pursuing educational exchanges with India.
Taiwan’s universities, despite their quality, are facing a student shortage due to the falling birthrate, Fang told a trends in education forum in Taipei, urging institutes to internationalize to avoid the threat of closure.
India has surpassed China as the world’s most populous country, while also being one of the youngest, Fang said.
It is not only sending migrant workers, but also many students to other countries, he said.
Thanks to the New Southbound Policy, there are already about 3,000 Indian students in Taiwan, he said, but added that the figure is inflated, as about half are not in degree programs.
Even if Taiwan only attracts 1 percent of all Indian students studying abroad, that would still be 10,000, he said.
“Bringing in 10,000 exchange students would be better than bringing in 100,000 migrant workers,” Fang added.
Indian students would have an advantage over other nations with the language barrier, as their schooling is primarily conducted in English, he said.
Fang also suggested promoting work-study opportunities to help alleviate labor shortages, which would enable students to pay for their tuition and living expenses.
Shih Fang-long (施芳瓏), a research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said that the market for higher education in English is already saturated in Taiwan.
However, the nation could still be a global hub for Chinese-language education, Shih said.
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