Thursday, November 23, 2017

My latest for Ketagalan Media: we need to raise awareness about immigration reform

I know I've beaten this topic to death, but I don't feel bad about that - as my latest piece for Ketagalan Media makes clear, a huge part of the problem is either a lack of awareness about or a misunderstanding of immigration laws in Taiwan. It's a common misconception that Taiwanese don't support dual nationality. Some don't, but generally speaking the issue is that they're not aware it's not already possible.

If there is one thing I want to drive home, it's this: my beef is with the double standard surrounding immigration laws.

When it comes to dual nationality alone, some countries allow it, and many don't. The key here is that those who do allow it for all, and those who don't allow it for none. Take China and Japan, for example. Those countries don't allow dual nationality either - few in Asia do. However, the same rule applies to those born as citizens of those countries just as it applies to those wishing to naturalize.

Some countries, such as Austria, only allow dual nationality under special circumstances. However, the law still applies to both born and naturalized citizens equally. Although it is unlikely that a naturalized Austrian may be granted leave to retain his or her original nationality, it is still theoretically possible, just as it is for a born Austrian.

The only other exception I can find is South Korea, and as I don't live there and the laws changed recently, rendering a lot of the information online outdated, I'm not even fully clear on that.

While I would not support Taiwan abolishing dual nationality for everyone, if they did so, at least I'd have no basis to complain about a double standard. The law would stink, but it would at least apply fairly to all people.

That, right there, is the crux of the problem, and that is what so few people understand.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Let's talk about sex education in Taiwan

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It's a popular expat pastime to point out ways that Taiwan is different from one's home country - you know, the typical "back home we have churches but here we have temples" type of narrative. I do it myself sometimes. There's nothing wrong with that type of story - vive la difference and all - but it's interesting sometimes to look at ways in which countries on two different ends of the world are more alike than they are different - for better or worse. And sometimes both.

This is one of those "both" times - an interesting article appeared on NPR pointing out Taiwan's forward thinking sex education curriculum (although implementation is far from perfect, as teachers incorporate it into other subjects as they see fit) as well as opposition to it. Both good (the modern, pragmatic curriculum content) and bad (anti-gay groups saying the same-sex relationship education is 'improper') are quite similar to the debate over this issue that goes on in my own country.

I've long been critical of sex education in the USA - as the article points out, what is taught (if anything) is state rather than federally mandated, so American children in different states might graduate with wildly different knowledge about sex and reproduction. More age-appropriate knowledge is always better in this regard (with "age appropriate" meaning "a strong knowledge base before a young person becomes sexually active, and whatever knowledge they are curious about regardless of age"), so it is never a good thing for a student in one state to have less knowledge than a student in another. When sex ed is taught, as it was in my school, I wonder about the content. I learned about sexually transmitted diseases and reproduction, but did not learn much about female anatomy - I had to inquire on my own to learn that one can pee with a tampon in, for example, and that's just unfortunate as it should have been taught - and nothing at all about physically and emotionally healthy sexual relationships (with the emotional part especially ignored). I learned that from a combination of talking with my mother, reading a book she'd given me, and honestly, learning on my own.

Imagine if I hadn't had a good upbringing or open-minded mother. Imagine what I might not have known about healthy sexuality simply because I was born into a more conservative family or state. Imagine how much of a problem that might have been for me as an adult - even with a pretty good education in these matters from home, I still made (relatively minor) mistakes. What sorts of bigger mistakes might I have made without this healthy upbringing?

And, frankly, I think it's just stupid to pretend sex - and how to enjoy it in a healthy way - is somehow a shameful topic that we must avoid talking about to children or even in (some) polite company. Everyone is either doin' it, will do it, or wants to do it. It makes about as much sense to pretend it doesn't exist as not building public bathrooms (we all excrete, too) or not eating in public or even talking about eating or admitting we eat. I also think it's stupid to consider basic health education, including how to have healthy relationships in general, as inappropriate for children. If you're old enough to notice that you have sex organs, you are old enough to know what they're for. If you're old enough to know how and why you poop, you are old enough to know how babies are made. If you're old enough to know that your parents (hopefully) have sex, you're old enough to know the good things and dangers of doing it yourself.

And if you're old enough to ask, you're old enough to deserve an answer.

So, yeah, not too happy with my own country on this front. If we could stop being so terrified of a basic (and fun!) biological function, maybe we could have a happier and healthier population as a whole. If we could do that, maybe we could understand this biology in a more evidence-based way, which would lead to less misogyny and gender discrimination and less homophobia and anti-gay fearmongering.

As for Taiwan, frankly, I'm not sure what to make of sex ed here. I know a curriculum exists, and I have seen with my own eyes attempts at public service campaigns on the topic: I once had a culture shock moment in the MRT as I watched a safe sex commercial play on the televisions that announce the time of the next train. And yet, I'm  surprised by how often I come across straight-up head-scratcher beliefs. For example:

- That you cannot or should not use a tampon if you are a virgin
- That if you merely sleep in the same bed as a person of the opposite sex, you might get pregnant
- That if you drink cold drinks on your period, the menstrual lining will "harden" and stop flowing out (I know this one comes from older Chinese beliefs, but to me, hearing it is akin to hearing a Westerner talk about the healing properties of leeches)
- That homosexuality leads to AIDS epidemics
- That the percentage of LGBT people would decrease if we'd only raise children a certain way
- That it is "not normal" to be gay (often backed up with painfully flawed historical or demographic arguments)
- That criminalizing sex work will stop it
- That teaching abstinence or withholding education will stop young people from having sex
- That men "always" want to have sex but women "usually don't"
- That sex is a female "duty" to her husband


...so, basically, aside from the whole no-cold-drinks-on-yer-period thing it's more or less just like the US. As I don't think the US's sex education programs are particularly praiseworthy, I also have to wonder if Taiwan's national program is effective as so many of the same myths and misconceptions persist. It's even the same people - those anti-gay, usually religious types who are a few conspiracy theories shy of thinking the Earth is flat, who want to impose their ridiculous and frankly made-up morality on the rest of us - causing trouble and spreading lies.

A little slice of America in the Far East. In the worst possible way.

It's a shame, because unlike the US where a Puritanical past coupled with (pun intended) waves of immigrants who, while they bring diversity to the US, might not exactly bring a cutting-edge understanding of sexuality, this never had to be the outcome in Taiwan. Taiwanese culture is often dismissed as "conservative" and "repressed" by foreigners who don't know better, but the reality is a lot more complicated than that, and is not necessarily always conservative by Western standards. There is room in Taiwanese culture to be open about these things.


And then there's hilarity like this:


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This brochure is outdated now, but I still think it proves a point. I had originally thought of it as a good thing: an attempt to educate, albeit a flawed one. Now, I'm not so sure. Why is it in English? I don't remember seeing a similar on in Chinese (although one might exist). Do they think foreigners need to be educated to avoid "seductions in cities"? Are we seen as the problem? That's a problem in itself, but the childish presentation and straight-up hilarious English - why on Earth did they think that "工欲善其事,必先利其器" was a good idiom to use? This alone renders it useless and ineffective for even this misguided goal.

What's more, instead of all the useful information they could have put on the back, they chose "avoid seductions", "flowers with dazzling beauty can take your life" and...sharpening tools?

Despite all that talk of a progressive national sex education curriculum, is this really what it boils down to?

I don't know, as I don't work in a public school, I don't research this issue and although I've had friends tell me they had very little or no sex education in school, they are all old enough that their observations would not necessarily reflect today's reality.

So I'm not sure what to think, but I do know that Taiwan can, and should, improve in this area. It is entirely in keeping with local culture that it do so.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Half the world is flat: Western liberals and conceptions of Asia

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Caffeine Cafe in Dilijan, Armenia


We hadn't had a lot to say over breakfast to the Danish couple sharing our homestay - I am notoriously antisocial in the mornings - but the golden evenings of the Armenian summer gave way to local wine, local vodka, homecooked food and talk of global affairs.

We had come up to Debed Canyon, our last stop in Armenia before heading across the Georgian border less than an hour to the north, from Yerevan via Dilijan, where we had spent a glorious few days doing very little except reading books on a wide wooden balcony overlooking a verdant hillscape. Caffeine Cafe was near our hotel in Dilijan and provided for all of our cafe needs. I remember thinking as we hung out there, The Black Keys on the sound system and single-origin coffee in the pot, young hipsters on their laptops with hair that screamed "Yes, I drink that single origin", that as much as world travelers like to think they're going to places where everything is different, and even the people think differently, in fact Caffeine was a place that would have been just as at home in Brooklyn...or Tainan. And I bet if I'd had a political conversation with any of these young Armenians, we would have agreed on quite a bit.

In contrast, Debed was taxing physically and bracing mentally. During the day we hiked from a monastery perched on one end of the canyon all the way down to the river at the base, crossed it and crawled up the vertiginous wall on the other, over a meadow and to its sister monastery on the opposite side.

Afterwards, stuffed with home-cooked Armenian food chased with entirely too much alcohol, we climbed vertiginous walls of conversation with the Danes. 

"But these ideas - human rights, democratic government - they were all created by Western cultures, and they serve Western cultures," he said. "They work there, because Westerners are individualists. But to insist that these ideas must be applied globally, that's cultural imperialism!"

I liked him. He was eloquent. He was also wrong.

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Debed Canyon: Vertiginous walls

"The whole point is that they're not Western rights, they're human rights. They are meant to apply to all humans. Perhaps the idea of spelling out these particular rights came from the West, but there's a reason why the United Nations - not the United Western Nations, but the United Nations - has a human rights commission. And the whole idea of the right of self-determination - a democracy, I suppose - is that everyone has it. Otherwise, you are essentially saying Westerners deserve rights that others don't."

"It's Westerners who conceived of these rights, so yes, they apply to Westerners. It's Westerners who conceived of democracy, so we can assume it works best there. Asia is more collectivist, those cultures are not individualist the way we are. So these ideas just don't work the same way in those cultures, if they work at all. We can't impose our idea of how people should live on the rest of the world!"

"Well, I can agree that telling other people how to live is generally a bad idea," I replied, "but how can you say that we created human rights for us, and other people don't need the right to express their opinion, or to not be arrested or tortured without cause, or not be enslaved, or choose what kind of government they want. Maybe that government wouldn't be what we want, but there is no good argument for not caring if they get to choose at all. And I'm not saying we should go into any given country and just tell them they're going to reform into democracies at gunpoint. We tried that, and look what happened. But that doesn't mean we should just abandon people who want something better."

He had lived in Asia for years, in Indonesia. He'd spent quite a bit of time in Southeast Asia, been around the continent, certainly visited China. I asked; he had not been to Taiwan. 

"We're not abandoning them, we're leaving them alone. They are able to come up with a system of government and way of doing things that suits them, and it's not for us to say."

"I certainly agree that people should come up with their own systems of government without being told by an outside force what to believe, but what you are essentially saying is that some cultures would be okay with arrest and torture without cause, enslavement, or being jailed or even killed simply for speaking one's mind. In a lot of countries that is the reality, but I have a hard time believing, having been to those countries, that most people prefer it that way."

"No, what I'm saying is, by insisting that everyone adopt the same norms we have, we are forcing something from individualist cultures onto collectivist ones, and it's just not going to work the way we'd hoped. In any case, given Western global hegemony and the history we have of colonization and destruction of other cultures, it's also imperialistic. It's forcing our values on the rest of the world. There is no such thing as universal values."

"So...slavery is sometimes okay?"

"What you conceive of as slavery might be considered differently in another culture, and not seen as slavery at all."

"I highly doubt that. It's a basic concept. I live in one of these 'other cultures' you speak of. They fucking know what slavery is, and their idea of it is not that different from mine, or yours. They're Asian, not stupid. They're not Exotic Orientals from the Mystical East who think up is down and circles are triangles. They're people. Normal people with a normal conception of things like slavery. You lived in one of these cultures too. Don't tell me Indonesians have a 'different conceptualization' of slavery because they come from a 'collectivist' culture. Nobody, regardless of where they come from, wants to be a slave...unless they're into that in, like, a sex way."

"Uh..."

(Hey, I actually said that. I'm just being honest. I've cleaned up the conversation in other ways, but that last bit is absolutely real.)

"But," he said, recovering, "look at what happens in non-Western countries that adopt Western models."

"Well, let me give you a positive example. I live in Taiwan. One of those 'collectivist' cultures you like to talk about. You know what Taiwanese think are very important? Human rights and democracy. This is a country that is actively resisting being annexed by a dictatorship, because they want to keep their democracy. Their human rights record isn't perfect but it's a damn sight better than China's. This is a country where people care so much about their democracy that they take to the streets because they want marriage equality and the government is being too slow about making it happen, where 200,000 people march downtown because a young man doing his military service died from overly harsh punishment. 200,000! This is a country where students occupied the legislature for nearly a month because they didn't like the way a trade bill was being forced through undemocratically, and 400,000 or so people showed up to support them. In a country of 23 million! That's more than one in every sixty people! They absolutely want these things, and while they come from a different culture, they're just people who want human rights. There's nothing wrong or culturally imperialist about that.

Many if not most of them think of free nations - including Western ones - as natural allies, not enemies. They want our support. Perhaps their culture is more 'collectivist', although that seems like a very broad term and we'd have to break down what you mean by it. And yet they have a thriving, successful democracy, welcome Western allies, want more American support than they are getting, and this in no way interferes with their culture. Japan and Korea are democracies too, and they work. Hong Kong wants democracy. When they didn't get full rights, they voted in a bunch of pro-democracy legislators.

In fact, you say we're 'leaving them be', but what you're really suggesting we do to Taiwan by saying China's actions are not our business because it's 'a different culture' is abandoning an ally who wants our support.

So when you say these ideas are Western - maybe they came from the West, but in my life I meet Asians every day who believe in these things just like I do. Nobody forced it on them. America didn't come in and say 'you have to be a democracy now!' The people of Taiwan fought for it and won it themselves. So how can you say these ideas only work in the West or are inherently and inseparably Western or 'individualist' when I live my life in a non-Western, 'collectivist' culture that shares such values and they work?

In fact, if you tried to tell the average Taiwanese person that democracy and human rights are inherently Western ideas brought to them via cultural imperialism, in effect that by believing in them they are tools of Western neocolonialism, I suspect they'd be pretty offended that you think they don't deserve these values or rights that they want and hold dear, or these things are somehow not for them. As though you get to decide which values are appropriate for them - which is just another form of imperialism. Or, they'd just laugh at you."

* * *

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Hiking between monasteries in Debed Canyon

This is what it's like to argue with me. Vertiginous walls of response. At least, this is how I remember the conversation - there's always a chance that, recalled from deep memory, my mind has created a narrative in which I look way smarter and more 'victorious' than I actually was. I'm actually kind of a dope, to be honest, so take all of this with a healthy suspension of disbelief.

In any case, I've thought a lot about this conversation in the intervening months, and always circle back to two main problems with this very typical Western liberal narrative on Asia.

First is the notion that all of Asia can be lumped together in this idea of 'collectivist' culture, and that because of this (and a few other cliches, such as 'Confucianism' and 'face'), they are so different from us that there is no set of universal, fundamental values that apply to all of us. Therefore, according to this line of thinking, we can't say anything or even be upset when Asian countries turn authoritarian: it's "their culture" after all, and our concepts of "human rights" and "democracy", being inherently Western, can't be applied.

Of course, this assumes that Asia is a continent of flat, continent-wide, immutable values that are diametrically opposed to our own. It distills every difference and uniqueness across cultures, regions and even people down to "well they're Asian", which is just another form of the old reactionary rhetoric on Asia where everyone is a stingy liar in a conical hat. It's just cloaked in a thin film of being 'woke' by using words like 'collectivist' instead of, I dunno, 'sideways vagina'. If 'they're Asian', they can't be like us, and so all of those great things we want like rights and freedom clearly don't apply to them.

Take this further, and one can even justify China's expansionist rhetoric: "well, we wouldn't stand for that in the West but they're Asian and you know, they have a different concept of what it means to be Chinese, so it's not for us to say." Little or no thought given to the idea that China's annexation-happy dictatorship is just espousing yet another form of the old-timey ethnic nationalism that we already know doesn't work, and which is already in the process of being actively rejected by Taiwan in favor of civic nationalism and Taiwanese identity. Same bullshit, different continent. It's not special just because this time it's happening in Asia.

When you get to the end of that rabbit hole, what you end up doing is arguing for China's authoritarian rule and threatening rhetoric on Taiwan, or at best being a useful idiot for CCP propaganda. You end up arguing in favor of an expansionist threat taking over a friendly democracy, simply because you've applied a surface-level knowledge of the cultures of Asia to your understanding of a specific political situation. You've effectively argued that freedom, self-determination and human rights are non-negotiables for you, but not for other human beings.

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Three days of reading books in Dilijan

I understand the impulse to come at it from this direction: a lot of these ideas did originate in the West, so applying them globally feels like yet another iteration of forcing Western culture on non-Western contexts. It feels wrong to argue that something from your culture is inherently superior to the way things are done in other cultures, and there is a fear among many Western liberals of criticizing other cultures in any way - doing so might be construed as racism, as though the person arguing this has a problem with an entire culture or group of people rather than with a specific idea. It's just easier to be a relativist. But, I'd argue, it's also somewhat cowardly to not stand up for what's right, or even the concept that some values are universal, out of fear of looking like yet another whitey criticizing the way "foreigners" do things.

This sometimes morphs into an even stronger argument: that Western values simply don't belong in Asia, and any instance of them being espoused there must be the result of Western meddling because they don't suit a "collectivist" context. I don't even know where to begin refuting this - it's that nonsensical. It's about as nuts as thinking that slavery is not a fundamental concept that all people understand because of "different cultures".

However, this stems from a misconception that we are irreconcilably different from them. That our half of the world is round and varied - it has ethical topography - but theirs is flat: "Well...but...collectivism. Confucius! Face! That's all there is! It explains everything!" It was a part of what fueled the entire discredited 90s debate about "Asian-style democracy" - an invention of authoritarian governments (often ones in Asia) to justify remaining in power, not a legitimate interpretation of values. It also stems from a weird holdover of ethnic nationalism in the West: it's not so bad if China annexes Taiwan because after all they are all Chinese, aren't they? 

We wouldn't make that argument about our own countries, so how can we make it with a straight face about countries in Asia? By deciding what values are and are not appropriate in Asian contexts, are we not just performing yet another form of cultural imperialism, big brothering and white man's burden? Who are we to decide what people can and cannot think in Asia?

What's more, if someone argues that we cannot criticize what certain groups and governments do because we're Western and they're Asian, how is it that they can then talk about what the Taiwanese should and should not accept vis-a-vis China, or which values - "Western" or "Eastern" - they should espouse?

Asia is not flat: it is varied and complex. Within Taiwan, there are yet more layers of complexity. Between groups and people, yet more. Many more than you would think not only buy into these "Western" values, but came to believe in them of their own accord. It was not forced on them by us (if anything, we are to blame for supporting the dictatorship that the Taiwanese people overthrew).

Taiwan's destiny ought not to be determined by biology, but by what the Taiwanese want, no different from anyone in the West who strives for a representative government and basic human rights. They don't deserve these things any less than we do simply because we've decided to view "Asian" cultures in the same flat, monochromatic way.

Not only can we criticize authoritarianism in Asia without being racist or culturally imperialist, but I would argue that we must, based on certain universal values that can work just as well in Asia as they do in the West, because people there are no less deserving. It's the only way to firmly support a friend an ally like Taiwan. We don't need to go in and force people to change - that's ridiculous - but we do need to stand up for what is right.

Yes, there is a sense of "collectivism" in Asia that sets cultures there somewhat apart from our own, and yes, Confucianism has had an influence on cultures here. But you know what other things have had an influence? Daoism (or as I call it, the "yo guys just chill and be yo'selves" philosophy), political activism, political intellectualism, international travel, protests, education in both the Asian and Western traditions, occupations, marches, coffeeshop culture (which lends itself well to political discourse) and progressivism. Don't shunt those to the side in order to make Asia seem flatter and more 'exotic' than it really is. Don't turn it into one of those Star Trek or Star Wars planets where the entire planet is just one way - the Volcano Planet, the Desert Planet, the Planet of Half-Black-Half-White-People, whatever - with no variation. Engage with it as it is, and see exactly how many people have come to embrace the universal values of freedom, self-determination and human rights - on this "far away" continent. Support them.

I thought about all of this and more as we ate our last, quiet breakfast in Armenia before taking off in a shared car across the Georgian border. I am Armenian by heritage, and there are many in Armenia who, despite wanting Armenia to be considered a Western nation, hold "Old World" views. There are many other young Armenians who want something more modern and progressive and, to my mind, better. Taiwan is no different - despite being a non-Western country, there are values they hold that can be considered not only Western, but universal. It's time Western liberal embraced that, rather than pushing it away in favor of a "Confucian" othering and flattening of Asia. 

Marriage equality is coming - so why are people still upset?

This isn't a rhetorical question, nor is it meant to imply that those who are unhappy at the seemingly slow pace of the Tsai administration on making marriage equality a reality should not be. It's a sincere question, and worth diving into.

First, a backgrounder: on May 24th, Taiwan's judiciary ruled that, as the Constitution of the Republic of China guaranteed equality for all citizens, that this must include marriage for all citizens, and therefore marriage equality must be allowed in Taiwan. However, instead of this ruling taking immediate effect, the court gave the government 2 years to enact a law addressing this, or amend the civil code. If they do not, after the two years are up (so, May 24 2019) the civil code will simply be interpreted to include both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

The ruling was handed down six months ago, and so far the government has not taken action. A marriage equality bill was not included in legislation deemed a 'priority' by the Legislative Yuan in their current session, although newly-appointed Premier Watermelon William Lai has said that the a marriage equality bill will be filed by the end of the year and has vowed to "realize" same-sex marriage in Taiwan.

None of this should matter, in theory. The court has spoken and the legislators and Tsai could sit around with their thumbs up their butts and the result would be the same - if they don't act we get marriage equality anyway. In 18 months no less - not that long in the grand scheme of politics.

In fact, Frozen Garlic made the argument - and I largely agree - that the DPP is actually on our side when it comes to marriage equality (scroll down to find the relevant information in that link). They know that passing a civil code amendment is politically infeasible given that a large portion of their support are older southern pro-independence social conservative sore losers who know they've lost but don't want the civil code changed nonetheless. They also know that passing a law papering over the civil code won't please pro-equality activists who want to see a more fundamental change.

In fact, it's notable that the DPP legislators who are openly pro-marriage equality are almost entirely party list. Elected ones? Not so much.

So what is the DPP to do, considering these opposing forces and desire to stay in power? Nothing at all, perhaps, allowing the interpretation of the civil code to change while neither having to anger activists by passing an imperfect law, nor pissing off their more conservative supporters by proactively amending the code.

Thinking this way, you might even think they're on our side, and they might well be.

And yet, tensions are still running high and people are still unhappy with the government's lack of movement on the issue. Why? In less than 2 years they get what they want regardless.

There are a few reasons.

The first is that 18 months is a long time if the lack of equality affects you directly. People get sick and die in that time, and being married or not matters in terms of visitation, medical decisions and inheritances. or have life changes for which marriage matters to consider (for example, being offered a job abroad and wanting to bring their same-sex partner, but only being allowed to bring a spouse). I have one friend residing in Taiwan who recently married in the US, and is hoping to get his husband a marriage visa and residence permit. That is not possible until marriage equality is realized. That's quite a few visa runs at a not-insignificant expense. I have quite a bit of empathy for those whose lives are on hold despite the court ruling that Taiwan is a country that promises equality, because the government is not acting to implement the ruling. It sucks to be told "you have to wait for your basic human rights", even for just 18 months, and not even be sure at the end of that time what rights you will gain.

It stings even more to think that the reason why is because, if you are gay, some of your fellow countrymen do not fully support your equality, and the DPP is pandering to that. Their votes matter more than your humanity. It's politically pragmatic and therefore explicable - Tsai is their representative too, after all - and yet not necessarily forgivable if your life is directly affected by such political calculus. This is an idealistic take, and yet I have empathy. It's simply not persuasive to point out that this is what's happened: that's what loses progressive votes; it doesn't win them.

Another reason is simple worry over how "same-sex marriage" will shake out in reality. Note that I specifically did not say "marriage equality" here: if the government passes a law, LGBT Taiwanese are justifiably worried that the law will legalize same-sex marriage, but not necessarily grant equality. Same-sex marriage might well not be considered to include some of the benefits associated with opposite-sex marriage: the right to adopt and to fertility treatments/artificial insemination (currently not allowed for 'unmarried women', which same-sex female couples still technically are) are chief among these potential issues, but there are others.

However, similar questions will be raised if nothing is done by the 2-year deadline. If the civil code is simply interpreted to include same-sex marriage, how is that then interpreted in all specific details, including adoption, medical emergencies, inheritance, fertility treatment and other spousal rights?

This is understandably causing a lot of stress in the LGBT community, who can't be sure which option is better, as neither is ideal. Neither is an absolute guarantee not just of "same-sex marriage", but of full equality. There is worry that if social momentum pushing for marriage equality does not build again, that opponents will gain ground and full equality won't be realizable. These opponents are already going after legislators who support marriage equality as well as focusing on bogus, bigoted and frankly sexist "gender education" efforts in schools.

There is no clear solution here - if conservative blowback ensures that a proactive civil code amendment is not forthcoming, then there is nothing to do but stress out over which outcome might be worse.

There is also the sense that Tsai is, to put it bluntly, a coward or "people pleaser".

I don't necessarily agree with this, or rather, if she is a coward, this isn't the reason why (the nonsense regarding labor protections, however, is a different story).

I also don't see her as a people pleaser, given how many people she has actively displeased with her non-committal stance on marriage equality. She must be aware how many young progressives and LGBT Taiwanese are angry with her over what looks like more waffles than an Eggo factory. She and her party have likely concluded that it doesn't matter - it will happen anyway, the young progressives have no better alternative, and it's more important not to anger the southern conservatives.

However, I see the reasoning behind such vitriol.

If she is a coward on marriage equality, it's because the court ruling allowed her to be. She doesn't have to take a stand, because marriage equality will happen even if she takes none. This has given so many LGBT Taiwanese and other pro-equality activists a deeper sense of discomfort that she was given an escape hatch, a way out of having to make a tough decision, and so they doubt her.

If it really came to it, would she fight for us? If she had to? Or would she choose her more conservative voters over us, and over what's right?


We don't know, but given her muted response to LGBT activists between her inauguration and the May 24th ruling, I can't say with confidence that she would. Of course that makes those whose lives are affected by the wait for marriage equality nervous about her administration.

In fact, the lack of meaningful affirmative support for marriage equality - despite its being all but assured by the courts - is a part of the problem. Tsai (and the DPP) are not going to win the LGBT vote this way: "sure we sort of backed down on issues that affect you, but vote for us because the KMT is worse!" is simply not a winning message. Whether or not this is fair almost doesn't matter: it doesn't win votes. It's a stinker of a message, thoroughly unpersuasive.

Although the conservatives the DPP has to play to are perhaps more problematic than the moderates the Democrats tried to woo in 2016, they are making the same mistake: they're hoping a "sorry we didn't stand up for you more strongly but hey, the other guy is worse" message will win progressives in 2020. It didn't in the US in 2016 and it won't in Taiwan in 2020. Nor should it - the choice to play to your more conservative supporters may be politically calculated, but it does (and should) come with consequences.

Finally, I can imagine that many who threw their support behind her feel manipulated. Remember that during the campaign she came out as personally in favor of marriage equality, but never actually made that an official platform of the DPP or her campaign. That gave her the ability, technically, to then not push forward with it after her inauguration. After all, she never actually promised to.

However, she gave the strong impression that she not only wanted to, but would do so. To be let down on a technicality feels like manipulation to win young progressive votes, and to some extent it is. She must have known that we had faith in her and believed she would fight for us despite never making any concrete promises. Therefore, neither she nor any political observers can be surprised when we express disappointment at, if not "backtracking", her lack of responsiveness since taking office.

I do think Tsai is the best choice for 2020 (well, if she can quit throwing labor under the bus that is), and she is certainly better than another KMT princeling. If I could vote, I would vote for her. However, if I were gay, I am not so sure I could say that. I would feel too betrayed, too manipulated, too disappointed. If I were a gay Taiwanese voter, I am not sure there is a major party I could support at all.

In the end, I don't know what the way forward is. I want marriage equality to be realized in Taiwan before mid-2019. We can and should do better by those whose lives are directly affected by the current lack of rights. I want true equality, not simply same-sex marriage. I don't know how to best realize that, and perhaps the DPP's likely calculation is correct: allowing the civil code to simply be interpreted to allow same-sex couples to wed is the best way forward for all. Perhaps it will be easier to fight battles for full, true equality if we don't have to fight to amend an imperfect law, but rather for the civil code interpretation to include that equality.

Or perhaps it really would be too much of a mess to wait until 2019 and an imperfect law now is better than none at all. I don't know.

Perhaps we need better communication from the DPP - some assurance that they are, in fact, on our side and have decided that this is the best way to help us get what we want. I can understand how nervous LGBT people in Taiwan must be absent a strong affirmation of support from the ruling party.

This is not impossible: if they really do believe that waiting for the civil code interpretation to change is to the advantage of LGBT people in Taiwan, there is a good argument to be made there that could potentially help them retain the support of young progressives. Why aren't they making it? I want them to win in 2020, so I want them to communicate better.

They need a better message, a more persuasive one. I want them to create this message and it is frustrating that they are not doing so.

All I ask is that we continue to remember that, as we debate this issue from the safety of our relative privilege, that there are people whose real lives are affected by this, right now, across Taiwan.

We may not agree with their reasons for being upset, and we may not feel that way ourselves, but we need to remember that they are upset, and there is some justification for this. It may be hard to imagine that this is a stressful time for Taiwan's LGBT citizens and residents, given our recent victories. Yet it is. Remember that, despite marriage equality (or at least "same sex marriage") coming no matter what thanks to the courts, that LGBT people are waiting to see exactly how much "equality" the government will decide they get. Tempers are running high, but that's understandable. I'd be upset too.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

No, immigrants are not the key to the labor shortage

Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with Lao Ren Cha or me personally knows that I am staunchly pro-immigration. It's one of the very few beliefs I actually share with libertarians. I do believe relaxing immigration requirements - not only in terms of naturalization but in terms of the laws that regulate us once we arrive - will be to Taiwan's benefit, not just my own. We contribute to the economy and deserve commensurate rights under a fair-minded policy, and those of us who wish to remain permanently deserve better tools to be able to do so, because we are generally good for Taiwan.

However, I have to say, I'm a bit sick of people referring to a sickly cousin of this argument as a defense of immigration reform: that it will "help reverse brain drain" or that it is "the key to the labor shortage" - that, in order to stem the dual problems of Taiwanese talent moving abroad and a cratering birth rate, we need more immigrants. Despite immigration, in my view, generally being a good thing.

In his recent statements, Premier William Lai was not entirely wrong - we cannot discuss how Taiwan will keep pace in a (so sorry for the lame cliche) "globalized world" (barf) without discussing immigration (link above):

“It is impossible to talk about talent recruitment without touching upon immigration policy,” Lai said, adding that the Cabinet would discuss how to create a friendly immigration environment before revealing its new policy.


However, he is doing more harm than good in referring to us as the key to bolstering the labor shortage:

Lai made the remarks in the last of five news conferences held this week to address the nation’s “five industrial shortages” — land, water, electricity, talent and workers.

No.

First of all, Mr. Lai, do you know what kind of damage you are doing when you revise the new labor regulations in a way that hurts workers on one day, and quite literally on the very next day you talk about attracting immigrants? What kind of message do you think you're sending?

Since perhaps you are not aware, Dear Willy, I will tell you:

You are sending the message that you don't care about Taiwanese labor - that you do not care about the average voters, that you do not care about your own people - because you intend to replace them with immigrants anyway. This does not help. This only lends credence to the notion that the government not only isn't concerned about plummeting wages as a result of ostensibly "cheaper" immigrant labor, but that they are depending on it. It only renders true the recent criticism that the current DPP-led government not only doesn't care about Taiwanese workers and doesn't think they are strictly necessary, but that they likely never did.

You are essentially saying that it is acceptable to crap all over Taiwanese labor rights, because it doesn't matter - you can always get some foreigners in here to do the work.

That not only hurts you, Willz, it also hurts us. It makes us look like the bad guys, which we never wanted to be. We just wanted to build lives here while also being a positive force that contributed to Taiwan. We never wanted to be fingered as replacements for Taiwanese labor, nor the reason why it was deemed acceptable to further worsen an already problematic set of new labor laws.

Stop it, WillWill. Just stop. No.

In fact, as wrong as New Bloom was regarding immigration regulations in other countries, they are right about the disastrous effect the DPP's  changes are going to have not only on Taiwanese labor and the brain drain, but to their own popularity. They are going to pay for this, and you know what? They should.

The solution to Taiwan's labor shortage is simple. Four words.

Treat your workers right. 

In fact, I have a problem with the whole "brain drain" debate. I'm a bit sick of people like me - "foreign talent" - being touted as a "solution". Not just today, from the mouth of Billy Lai here, but generally.

I'm not sure why more people are not saying this, because it's bleedin' obvious to me - the solution to Taiwan's brain drain is for Taiwanese employers to treat their workers like human fucking beings.

Pay them a fair wage - a wage on par with what they can earn in other countries at a similar level of development (and some that aren't, like China). Then the most talented among them won't feel the need to go abroad to seek work. Paying them more further makes it easier for them to start families, which will help slow or reverse the declining birth rate. Considering that Hsinchu County has a high birthrate (a student once told me it was the highest) in the country and is an affordable place to live while still having a number of professional jobs thanks to the tech sector, it is clear that given a reasonable income vis-a-vis expenses, that Taiwanese want, and will have, children. Save a number of women who have figured out quite rightly that traditional family roles in Taiwan don't offer them a particularly good deal in life and have therefore decided to remain child-free, if they're not having kids it's not because they've lost interest - it's because they feel they can't afford them. Pay them more and watch that magically change! WOW!

I'm a regular magician, I know.

Give them reasonable working hours. Quit it with handing them work in the late afternoon and then promoting a corporate culture where they feel pressured to stay late to finish what they've just been given. Quit it with the hiring of one person to shoulder a workload best split between two or three people - seriously, stop that. You're not helping yourself or anyone. Tired workers are not innovative, efficient or productive workers. Give them reasonable paid vacation and let them leave at a reasonable time (5 or 6 - with overtime being a rarity asked for and paid for accordingly when an issue is truly urgent - and no I don't mean like now where every issue is urgent, because they're not and you know it - and a full 2-day weekend, even if it doesn't always fall on traditional weekend days).

If they have more free time not only are they better workers - win for you! - but also they have more time to get busy, which means more kids.

Give them room for growth. Stop pushing them down and then wondering why they're not happy with it.

Stop being dicks to them - stop it with the nonsensical orders, the immature management, the babying, the corrupt practices, the passive-aggressiveness and the lying. Not every boss is like this, but for those you are - we see through you. The average Taiwanese employee is no idiot, and knows your stupid game. Why do you think they want to leave? Why do you think they aren't having kids, when they're too tired to do the horizontal tango and too broke to feel they can give their would-be kids a good life?

Basically, treat them well. 

Honestly, most talented Taiwanese who leave probably would have preferred to stay, bar a few adventurous types who just want to see the world (fair - I'm like that too). Taiwan is a great place to live. It's a developed country. It's friendly and fairly safe. It's their home, and enjoys a high standard of living and relaxed lifestyle. Few would leave if they felt they got a fair shake here. Some might start their own businesses, but many would work for you, and you'd be better for it.

So stop saying people like me - or workers from South and Southeast Asia - are the "solution" to this problem. We can and do contribute to Taiwan, and many of us do want to stay. The smarter ones among us support immigration reform, but make no mistake - we are not your easy answer.

The solution is and always was to treat your Taiwanese workers better.

Protect this with robust labor laws, and engender it with moves toward a deeper culture shift in which the crap doesn't sluice from the big roosters top through cages stacked like a chicken coop to the workers clucking below.

Treat. Your. Workers. Better.

Stop using us as an excuse. Engage with us for what we can contribute, not as a way to avoid improving local conditions. By touting us as the solution we never wanted to be to a problem you helped create, you hurt us, you hurt Taiwanese workers and you -William Lai and the entire Tsai administration - hurt yourselves. 

Sometimes I change my mind

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You know, I have said that I have trouble voting my conscience in American elections, because the people I support on (almost) every other platform are the people who either don't care or seem to be just plain wrong about Taiwan (although even that is sometimes hard to gauge). It's the same reason why I do not attempt to get into more hardcore pro-Taiwan advocacy in the US - when it comes to the conservative blowhards whom I want to mouth-punch on one hand for trying to take away my bodily autonomy as a woman, I doubt I could just turn around and talk to them civilly about Taiwan. It's my reproductive system they want to get their grimy hands in - it's kinda personal. I can't distance myself from it the way a lot of (male) people who are not threatened because of their gender can. I don't doubt they abhor it as well, but the ability to compartmentalize...well, that seems like a really nice privilege of having a penis.

I have also said that, while I was generally a Sanders supporter back when I could be one, and did vote for him in the primary, that I was concerned about what kind of president he would be vis-a-vis Taiwan. He was not exactly known for his foreign policy acumen, or at least was seen as weak in that area.

I mean, Trump is Trump and he's just hair and fart sounds so whatever, but generally Republican presidents have been better for Taiwan than Democratic ones. Those same Republican presidents have been bad news for women.

When you love Taiwan but have a vagina, this is a problem. It didn't seem possible to fully vote my conscience, because it appeared that those I could never vote for had the best possible Taiwan policy - that's not to say great, but the best thing going under the circumstances - and those I otherwise supported, shall we say, did not.

I had friends assure me that support for Taiwan was bipartisan, but that seemed unlikely in a world where Republicans were in the media doing everything I wanted Democrats to be doing - meeting with Hong Kong dissidents, introducing pro-Taiwan legislation. Then we have (rumors? Leaks? Real? Fake? Who even knows?) that Hillary Clinton wanted to discuss ditching Taiwan.

Then I saw this letter urging President Hair and Fart Sounds to support the Taiwan Relations Act in light of his (then upcoming) visit to China to meet with President Angry Pooh.  And unless it's some elaborate troll job aimed specifically at me (it's not), it induced elation and despair at the same time.


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Robert Menendez. Ron Wyden. Edward Markey. Chuck Schumer. Chris Van Hollen. Catherine Cortez Masto. Heidi Heitkamp (though I don't always agree with her). Joe Manchin. Sherrod Brown (who says a lot about Taiwan and it almost never seems to get media attention). Gary Peters. Elizabeth Warren. Al Franken. Bernard Sanders.

Now, I'm not trying to claim that the Taiwan Relations Act is the gold standard of the way the world should be treating Taiwan. It's not. Nobody in the world is treating Taiwan the way it should be treated, not even its (checkbook) diplomatic allies. Taiwan deserves better than what it's getting, period. It deserves international recognition and support, including support for changing its governmental framework from fundamentally Chinese to fundamentally Taiwanese. I'm not a fan of support for the "ROC on Taiwan" as a way of opposing Communism or even simply opposing China - I'm not a fan of the ROC at all.

I'd prefer a world in which it was a given that Taiwan could decide its future without international threat, and in which support for Taiwan was based on it simply being the right thing to do - supporting Taiwan for Taiwan's sake and everything it has to offer the world - and not in any sort of relation to how the world handled China. That is, however, not the world we live in.

Considering Taiwan's former authoritarian leadership's complicity in creating the state of limbo the country still finds itself, and considering that "rah rah ROC because we hate the PRC" - and "well, here's the Taiwan Relations Act which is a bit milquetoast but it's something and frankly a unique piece of policy given the situation" are not ideal but are, unfortunately, how the 20th century shook out, I'll take it.

So, I've changed my mind on a few things.

Yes, GOP rhetoric on Taiwan, while imperfect, is still closer to the mark than Democratic rhetoric. Conservative rhetoric on Taiwan is more acccurate - though again, flawed - than liberal discourse.

However, it is clear that despite this, support for Taiwan is a bipartisan issue. Call me a Doubting Thomas - I needed to see it in the flesh. You don't get Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Freakin' Sanders signing a letter alongside Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz if something is a partisan issue. You just don't.

This helps, but does not make me any happier that more than one "friend of Taiwan" is no friend of mine, as a person in a female body who expects bodily autonomy. For every good thing they do or say regarding Taiwan or Hong Kong, I can name some way in which they have tried to subjugate women. The part of me that loves Taiwan cannot reconcile this with the part of me that has, and would like to retain control over, ovaries.

It is also clear that, as much as I might disagree at times, and as much as I might think the US can and should offer something a bit stronger to Taiwan than the weaksauce currently on the table, that those at the top forming policy do, in fact, understand (at least enough of) the intricacies of the Taiwan issue.

Do I entirely trust them? Nope. But I'll take it for now.

So why do I despair?

Because the one thing that consoled me as Sanders left the 2016 race and I cast my vote for Clinton - besides genuinely wanting a female president and knowing that, while I might not like a lot of what she does, I did trust her to do the job competently - was that "Sanders would have been weak on Taiwan".

Except...oops. Nope.

It's not possible to know what a President Sanders would have done vis-a-vis Taiwan, but we can make some educated guesses, and his name on this letter is telling.

And because I actually voted against Chuck Schumer in 2016. Hey, don't judge me, I knew he'd win anyway, I just wanted to give a big pointless middle finger to the Democrats in some small way. I voted Green Party for Senate, knowing they'd lose. Now I kind of regret that a little, maybe?

Oh yeah, and I despair because despite this being a bipartisan issue, Taiwan is still stuck in the status quo morass with a world that does not appreciate what it has to offer and can't bring itself to just do the right thing, and also because this letter was delivered to President Hair and Fart Sounds, which means...ugh.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

So are we Garbage Foreigners or not?

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Yeah, Taiwanese government. Don't just throw us anywhere. God is watching. 

A few days ago, the Legislative Yuan passed the Act Governing Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals (外國專業人才延攬及雇用法), something the long-term expat community has been talking about for awhile. In theory, the Act gives out lots of benefits to all foreign professionals. In practice, who gets what is less clear.

I'm only writing about it now because it became clear early on that news coverage of its passage was perhaps a more interesting angle to consider than simply providing another analysis of the act itself.

I'll start with the one article I have little criticism of: a News Lens piece on the limbo many foreign artists in Taiwan find themselves in, as the visa laws don't appropriately cover them. This piece correctly notes that the new law makes it easier to apply for a visa independently - as most foreign artists do not have a single employer and may not have an "employer" at all - and also that the new regulations may not include those who arrive for the purposes of unpaid art exchanges.

I'll also get this point out of the way: this Act covers foreign professionals, who are a minority of all foreigners in Taiwan. The majority are migrant workers - mostly laborers from Southeast Asia - will not see any change or any respite in their uphill battle for fairer immigration policy and more protections guaranteeing better treatment while they are here. This is not right.

Regarding all other issues, for those who are interested, you can read an English version of the full Act here (Google Drive), and a Chinese version here (the English version should also be available for download on that site). I do recommend that you do so.

Notably, the Act continues the tendency to differentiate foreign professionals into Foreign Special Professionals (special Lords and Ladies "who possess special expertise needed by the State in science and technology, the economy, education, the arts, sports and other fields "as announced by the relevant central competent authority" which means little except that the government has to designate you as such - this seems to mostly cover old missionaries), Foreign Senior Professionals ("senior professionals needed by the State...as specified in the Immigration Act") and Foreign Professionals (or, essentially, Garbage Foreigners - good enough to get a professional visa to come here, but not good enough to qualify for any other benefits fair-minded immigration policy because they are not really wanted or not really considered 'professionals' despite the visa). Don't think I'm dumping on Garbage Foreigners - despite all of my relevant qualifications, experience and expertise, I am one too.

However, it is not clear to what extent the differentiation will matter in implementation. This is where the coverage of the Act's passage becomes relevant. If you read the Act itself, most of the benefits will be applicable to all classes of foreign professionals - different articles cover each class, but all are covered in most cases.

What this means is that permanent residents like Brendan and I will be eligible for the labor pension scheme, and should I get a university job I'll be eligible for that pension scheme just as a local would. This is brilliant, and something sorely needed. The money isn't much, but it's something, and it's simply the fair and right thing to do.

The Act also stipulates that dependents of permanent residents will be able to apply for permanent residence as well. This is great news for a few friends of mine, notably at least one whose spouse would benefit greatly from being able to apply for permanent residence. This doesn't affect me as I have no dependents and Brendan is now officially a permanent resident as well, but it does affect people I know and care about.

However, the News Lens article on the Act terrified a number of us in the foreign community, noting:

As for “senior” professionals, or those whose spouses, minor children and disabled children may apply for permanent residency along with the worker, not to mention qualify for certain tax benefits, they are likely to be defined as those with a minimum monthly salary of at least NT$160,000 (US$5,300). Again, regulations and letters of interpretation will be issued to defined this as part of the Executive Yuan’s implementation phase.



This language is not in the Act itself, which only refers to "foreign professionals" (as well as Foreign Special Professionals and Foreign Senior Professionals). It caused quite a stir, and even led to accusations of inaccurate or lazy reporting and "spreading false information", but if you read that paragraph carefully, it is clearly speculation regarding how the Act will be implemented. 
The Act's language does differ between Foreign Special Professionals and the rest of us trash, where our dependents have a 5-year residency requirement that is not present in the article pertaining to Foreign Special Professionals. This has led some people to believe that for we regular trashcan dwellers, dependents must wait an additional five years to be covered. However, it's not clear that those five years must take place after the original applicant receives their APRC. It could well be that dependents of Better Superior Super Awesome foreigners can apply even if they don't have 5 years' residency (say, if they joined the working parent/spouse later), whereas we regular roaches don't get this benefit. I'm going to look for clarification on this.

That said, we should all be on guard regarding implementation, as it is possible for extra layers of regulation and further requirements to qualify may be added at that time. 

In fact, I reached out to the News Lens for clarification on where speculation that this requirement would be added came from, and received a timely and useful reply (thanks, News Lens!). The speculative ideas here came from this source.

I suspect, reading through that source, that it's not that those eligible to have their dependents apply for APRCs that will be constrained by the $160,000NT/month income requirement, but merely one definition of what constitutes a "foreign special professional". 

As dependents of foreign professionals (not just Foreign Special Professional Wonderful Lords and Ladies) will be allowed to apply for APRCs, what is defined as a "foreign special professional" doesn't seem to actually apply for this specific purpose. 

So, for now, we can relax. 

It is very important that we stay on our guard to ensure that requirements for dependent APRCs are not regulated to only apply to some foreigners for one simple reason - and I am highlighting this paragraph because it is probably the most important thing I'll say in the entire post: 

It is not fair to discriminate against the children and spouses of some long-term professionals simply because the breadwinner who holds the visa allowing them all to stay is not the "right kind" of foreigner. It is not right to tell the children of comfortable or moderately prosperous foreign teachers that, because their mother or father is not rich enough, or because he or she is a teacher rather than, say, an engineer, that they do not deserve permanent residency in the only country they have ever known or called home. "Sorry kids, I know you were born and raised here and one of your native languages is Mandarin, but your Mom went into the noble profession of education instead of being a highly-paid businessperson, so when you turn 20 you should GTFO and go live in a country you've only visited a few times and feel like a foreigner in!" goes against basic humanity as well as the civic values of what it means to be Taiwanese. 

This is not a threat yet, but it could become one in the implementation phase, and we cannot let that happen.

Another improvement will be the issuance of Gold Cards which wrap a work permit, residence visa, residence permit and re-entry permit (which is odd - your residence permit
is your re-entry permit now so what's the change?) into one, and ensure that you hold your own work permit rather than it being dependent on your employer. 

This would be wonderful, as one major issue foreigners in Taiwan face is that, if they are in a dire or problematic employment situation, it is difficult to change jobs as a malicious employer may attempt to cancel your visa and work permit before you can find another job. Even if you do find another job, some malicious employers cancel your visa/work permit a bit too early before the switch can be processed. I have known more than one person facing this issue, and it has affected how long they'd had to wait for permanent residency. 

Focus Taiwan reports this in a very unclear way, making it sound as though everyone qualifies for Gold Cards (New Bloom makes the same mistake). In fact, only Foreign Special Professional Wonderful Lords and Ladies qualify, not Garbage Foreigners. 

That is to say, most people - we normal plebes - who are likely to find themselves in a bad employment situation will actually not be able to get out of it more easily, because they won't qualify for being treated with basic humanity. 

Another point that has been met which is universally good news is that children born to foreign professionals in Taiwan will no longer have a 6-month gap between birth and when they are eligible for enrollment in National Health Insurance. This is a deeply-important and much needed change, as there have been several cases of new parents, who happened to be foreigners, seeing their financial wellbeing destroyed by spiraling medical costs in the case of medical complications after the birth of their children.

Yet another provision that benefits me is the revocation of the 183 day/year residency requirement to maintain my permanent residence. As readers know, I spent almost half a year in the US in 2015 to attend to family matters after the passing of my mother in late 2014. I filed a petition to leave for a longer period with Immigration before leaving (and such petitions are nearly universally accepted), and squeaked back in under the 183-day limit regardless, but it is conceivable that such a situation will arise again. From personal experience, I know this requirement can be hard to meet. 

Other issues remain unaddressed, however, which few news outlets are reporting. I'm not as concerned about the internship eligibility being cut, though perhaps that's because I'm not a fan of internships generally. I consider them to be at best a problematic institution and at worst exploitative, almost parasitic ("you need us for experience but we're not going to make it possible for you to eat or pay rent"). 

However, I know a few foreigners born and raised in Taiwan who are well over the age of 20, and therefore will not be eligible to apply for permanent residency under this Act. All this group of foreign residents - for whom Taiwan truly is not only home but also their native land and culture - is asking for as we wait for dual nationality laws to be relaxed is to be given permanent residence on the basis of their having lived here, in some cases, all their lives. And yet, because they were born too early, they're still in limbo. 

Another problem is that, for many foreigners, the requirement of "two years' relevant experience or a Master's in any field" to work in any job other than English teaching is onerous. Some may have, say, a year and 8 months' experience (do those extra few months really matter?), some may want to change fields, some may have an extremely relevant Bachelor's, some may have trouble documenting their experience - having worked freelance, or for an employer that will not provide them with the relevant documents, and some may be in industries where experience is not as quantifiable, such as the arts. I know of at least one case where a young man would have preferred to stay in Taiwan after earning a Bachelor's degree, and who had spent much of his childhood in Taiwan, but could not get any non-teaching job (and he didn't want to teach). He went to Japan. I know of another who had nearly, but not quite, 2 years' experience and had been in Taiwan for over 5 years. However, some of that time was spent as a student, which does not count towards permanent residency, and there had been a break regardless (to finish school and care for a sick relative). There is no reason why that should have held her back from finding non-teaching work. 

This is one area where I further disagree with New Bloom (linked above). We agree that immigration controls around the world can be barbarous, acting as unnecessary controls on people rather than in the interests of a country. They note rightly that immigration policies around the world are strict, and Taiwan is no exception.

However, they provide evidence for that claim in all the wrong ways. Unlike countries with stricter immigration policies, Taiwan
wants to attract foreign talent. The strategy, therefore, should not be to mimic other countries who want to tighten controls. 

In fact, New Bloom fails to point out the real difference between Taiwan and many of our countries of origin. It is difficult to immigrate or work in North America, Australia and much of Europe. This much is true. In fact, it's quite easy in contrast to come and work in Taiwan. Even if one is only qualified to teach, they only have to stick around doing that for five years before qualifying for an APRC, which allows them to take any job. That's not bad, considering how many immigrants to the West give up whatever career they had in their native countries permanently, often working lower-skilled jobs in the hope that growing up in the West will benefit their children.

However, once in those Western countries legally,
it is fairly easy to stay. There are paths to naturalization that are viable, and even permanent residents/green card holders enjoy benefits we permanent residents in Taiwan do not. They are also not discriminated against in business the way we are: many obtain mortgages and credit lines, for example, which remains a pipe dream for many long-term residents in Taiwan (although the credit card situation appears to be improving).

It is simply not enough to say "well the requirements in your countries of origin are also strict!" It's more complicated than that. 

In fact, I'd say that compared to the rest of the world it's not only easy to come here for work - as mentioned above - but fairly easy to obtain permanent residence. The bar is high, and a problem for some deserving people, but it is not impassable for most foreign professionals. However, as I've written, in Taiwan permanent residency is not enough to actually stay permanently unless one is married to a Taiwanese citizen (which clears up all or most of the hurdles surrounding credit lines and obtaining a mortgage). 

Related to this but not specifically in reaction to the New Bloom piece, while it is true that around the world countries want to attract certain types of professionals, I am generally against a policy of differentiation of professional work. 

Barring some exceptional cases, most immigrants contribute to the country they settle in, and generally speaking the numbers that come in are more or less in line with the numbers the economy can handle. The reason why is simple: we don't move abroad in a vacuum. We research, read ahead, ask questions and talk to people already in the country we are considering moving to. If all signs point to "it will be hard to find a job and wages and benefits are stagnant because the market is saturated or the jobs simply not that good", that will reduce the number of people coming in as they'll decide to go elsewhere in search of better opportunities. When the market is robust and competitive, more will come, just as it should be. 

This is true for Garbage Foreigners as well as Special Outstanding Wonderful Foreign Lords and Ladies. You aren't going to get the Special Wonderful Foreign Lords and Ladies if your market isn't enticing, no matter how lenient your immigration policy is. And, I've gotta say, I love you Taiwan but the market is not enticing. Frankly, it's not even enticing for foreign teachers. Those of us who stay do so because we care about Taiwan, not because we think remuneration is superb. 

Aww, look at me, sounding like a Running Dog Capitalist! 

If anything, in the case of us Garbage Foreigners, making it easier to move here as a teacher will entice better teachers to come here - people with real qualifications and experience, not just new graduates who have never been in a classroom nor have been trained to teach. This can only improve the country. Some are likely to work in cram schools, raising the level of education at those institutions - working in a university or public school doesn't suit everyone (I could work in a public school, for example, but choose not to).

I have talked to more than one qualified and talented teacher who has either chosen not to come here or not to stay because the labor and immigration laws are not enticing enough to better teachers. 

In any case, a second reason not to discriminate in this way is that most of the benefits in the Act won't apply to the vast majority of incoming foreigners. Most of the benefits accrue to permanent residents (that is, long-termers like me), and the vast majority of foreign professionals who come to Taiwan do not stay that long, or are not intending to stay permanently or semi-permanently, and as such won't qualify. The number of foreign professionals - from Garbage to Special - who will qualify is not only small, it encompasses people who are already here. Nothing will change for Taiwan except that its long-term foreign residents will get a fairer shake. Why is that a bad thing? There is no good reason to tell them they aren't good enough or wanted enough. 

Yes, these provisions will affect new arrivals who, in the future, may decide to put down roots in Taiwan. However, given past numbers (I doubt the total number of permanent residents is above four figures), the impact will not be large. Most Garbage Foreigners - again, the category I fall into - plan to leave within a few years, not to make Taiwan their home. We aren't going to see a massive influx of unwanted filthy stinky buxiban teachers just because permanent residents get a few more much-needed benefits. In any case, 
the contributions these someday-long-termers make will far outstrip the benefits they are offered, and by the time they are eligible they have been already here for some time. 

That the Act felt the need to discuss at length the "limited" need for such Garbage Foreigners is telling and sad. Thanks, Taiwan. Good to know that you had to put into writing exactly how much people like me are not valued.

Finally, as this is an ancillary issue to discussion of the newly-passed Act, New Bloom also gets this wrong:


What leads many to react strongly against and sometimes deem Taiwan a “xenophobic” country is the lack of adequate provisions for obtaining Taiwanese citizenship, in which Taiwanese citizens may be allowed to hold multiple citizenships without being made to give up their original Taiwanese citizenship, but foreigners would have to give up their original citizenship before applying for Taiwanese citizenship, leaving the possibility open that they may become stateless. But, again, although this is a serious fault of the Taiwanese system, this is not exceptional in Asia, in which a high barrier for obtaining citizenship has not been overcome.



In fact, Taiwan's case is exceptional in Asia for a few reasons.

The first is that, again, unlike other Asian countries, Taiwan looks more favorably on diversity. Not everyone has hopped on the internationalization train, but generally speaking Taiwan is not as xenophobic as China, Japan or Korea, especially when it comes to long-term foreign residents. I doubt the majority of Chinese, Japanese or Koreans would support allowing many foreigners to become citizens at all, dual nationality aside. Taiwan is different. A few ethnic chauvinists still exist, but nobody I've talked to - and I've talked to hundreds of people about this issue - is against foreign long-term residents becoming citizens. For many, to be Taiwanese is to participate in a shared civic nationalism, not to be of the same blood as the rest of an ethnic state.

Try playing that card in Japan or Korea (or even China, despite its ethnic diversity - well, China's rhetoric just doesn't make sense in this regard) - good luck. You won't find much support.

Secondly, and I cannot stress this enough, Taiwan is exceptional because unlike other Asian countries, there is a massive double standard regarding who can have dual nationality.

China and Japan, in contrast, do not allow dual nationality even for their born citizens. If a foreigner wants to be Japanese or Chinese (although why someone would want Chinese nationality if they weren't born with it is beyond me), they must give up their original nationality. However, the same is true if a Chinese or Japanese person wants to obtain a second nationality. In fact, in one memorable case, noted author Guo Xiaolu obtained British nationality not realizing this law, and had her Chinese passport cut up by a consular official:



“Do you have a Chinese passport?” She stared at me with a cold, calm intensity, clutching my British passport.
I took out my Chinese passport and handed it to her through the narrow window.
She flipped through its pages. The way she handled it gave me a sudden stomach ache. I sensed something bad was coming.
“You know it’s illegal to possess two passports as a Chinese citizen?” she remarked in her even-toned, slightly jarring voice.
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“Illegal?” I repeated. My surprise was totally genuine. It had never occurred to me that having two passports was against Chinese law.
The woman glanced at me from the corner of her eye. I couldn’t help but feel the judgment she had formed of me: a criminal! No, worse than that, I was a Chinese criminal who had muddied her own Chinese citizenship with that of a small, foreign state. And to top it all, I was ignorant of the laws of my own country.
She then flipped through my visa application, which was attached to my British passport, and announced: “Since this is the first time you are using your western passport, we will only issue you a two-week visa for China.”
“What?” I was speechless. I had applied for a six-month family visit visa. Before I could even argue, I saw her take out a large pair of scissors and decisively cut the corner off my Chinese passport. She then threw it back out at me. It landed before me on the counter, disfigured and invalid.

South Korea is a murkier situation. Dual nationality is now allowed for Koreans as well as foreign long-term residents, but who is eligible for it is unclear (I'll have to do more research on this). From the second link:


By submitting the same type of pledge, certain groups of foreign nationals may also acquire Korean citizenship while maintaining their original one. The groups include marriage migrants, foreigners of outstanding talent who are naturalized as Koreans, and those who have their Korean citizenship reinstated by meeting certain qualifications. (Nationality Act, Act No. 8892 (Mar. 14, 2008), last amended by Act No. 10275 (May 4, 2010).


If this means what I suspect - that general naturalization in Korea is similarly restricted to Foreign Special Wonderful Lords and Ladies as it is in Taiwan, and closed to Garbage Foreigners - this still, however, makes Korea and Taiwan the exceptions, not the rule.

In fact, regarding Taiwan, let's call it a triple standard.

If you are born Taiwanese, you can have dual nationality or even multiple nationalities.

If you are the descendants of Overseas Chinese (I'm not sure how specific the requirements are, but certainly if your ancestors were a part of the 1945-1949 Nationalist diaspora), you can have dual nationality, even if your ancestors never set foot in Taiwan. They will give you Taiwanese nationality and let you keep your original nationality. I know more than one person who has successfully done this.

That is to say, the requirements are not merely related to blood. It's pure, clear ethnic chauvinism. It's racism. Your ancestors do not have to be Taiwanese, they merely need the correct ethnic and political pedigree.

If you are a foreigner - just like me! - but your ancestors were Taiwanese, you can be a dual national.

If your grandfather spent a short amount of time residing in Taiwan and you're a really good soccer player, you can be a dual national. Ugh.

But if you have the wrong color skin and the wrong-shaped face, you are a Garbage Foreigner who does not qualify. You must renounce, you stinking piece of crap. Never forget that you are not wanted.

This is true even if you were born and raised here. Someone whose ancestors never came to Taiwan but have the desired political history can be a dual national, but someone who is actually Taiwanese by virtue of growing up here immersed in the culture is not.

This is not true for other Asian countries. Their laws are harsh, but at least they apply fairly to everyone. I don't want such harsh requirements in Taiwan, but I do want fairer immigration policy.

I wish New Bloom had covered the issue in this level of nuance - I generally like their local coverage, especially of student and social movements. Unfortunately, the editorializing here misses the mark and is deeply misleading.

In any case, this is not the main issue - it just happens to be related to the question posed by both the ongoing fight for dual nationality - but both this issue and the passage of the Act Governing Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals lead us back to the same question: 
Are we Garbage Foreigners or not? Does Taiwan want us or not? (Hell, does Taiwan understand basic economics or not?)

The new Act seems to point toward a general opening up of how welcoming Taiwan is to its long-term foreign residents, at least the professional class (which is, of course, not enough as most foreigners are not "professionals"). However, continued differentiation of who is an Amazing Perfect Special Outstanding Foreign Professional Demigod and who is a Big-Nose Trash Monkey "Professional", and continued battles to include all foreigners - including non-professional laborers - who want to put down roots in Taiwan still make me wonder.

Are we valued, Taiwan? Am I valued?

I don't know, and your message is more than a little muddled.