Easing Rules on Foreign Professionals

NDC Deputy Minister Kao Shien-quay

For years, a key element in AmCham Taipei’s advocacy agenda has been an appeal to the government to ease the way for foreign white-collar personnel to live and work in Taiwan.

Major progress was made in that direction with the Legislative Yuan’s passage on October 31 of an Act for the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals. The National Development Council (NDC), which was primarily responsible for drafting the bill, described the aim of the legislation as building a friendly environment to attract foreign professionals “so as to promote industrial upgrading and transformation, and enhance Taiwan’s international competitiveness.” The law and its 12 subordinate enforcement regulations are expected to be implemented before the coming lunar new year.

Under the new system, regulations governing work permits, visas, and residence requirements will be relaxed in a number of ways:

  • A six-month “job-seeking visa” will be made available for foreign nationals who are interested in coming to Taiwan for employment but do not yet have a job lined up.
  • The current rule on permanent residence, which makes retention of that status contingent on continued stays in Taiwan of at least 183 days every year, will be relaxed. In future the permanent residence will be canceled only if the holder has been absent from Taiwan for five years.
  • To encourage public and private schools to expand their recruitment of foreign teachers, the Ministry of Education will be authorized to issue teachers’ work permits.
  • Cram schools (buxibans) will be permitted to hire foreigners as teachers as long as they possess specialized knowledge or skills.
  • Foreign freelance artists will be able to apply directly to the Ministry of Labor for permission to work in Taiwan instead of having to apply through an employer.
  • A new category of Foreign Special Professional is being created to cover important corporate executives and those with recognized expertise in designated fields. These individuals will be able to apply for an “Employment Gold Card” combining the functions of a work permit, residency visa, alien residence certificate (ARC), and re-entry permit. Holders of the card will enjoy greater flexibility in “seeking, taking up and changing employment,” including a longer term of validity of their work permits. The criteria for designation as a Foreign Special Professional will be set by the regulatory authority for the relevant sector – for example, the Financial Supervisory Commission for financial institutions.

In addition, the new law relaxes residence rules for foreign professionals’ family members:

  • Conditions will be eased for the spouses, minor children, and disabled adult children of permanent-resident foreign professionals to apply for permanent residence. In the case applicants deemed to be “senior foreign professionals,” those family members will be able to apply together with the senior foreign professional.
  • Requirements are also eased to enable foreign professionals’ adult children who meet specified conditions to apply for work permits without having to go through an employer.
  • The length of stay for visitor visas for the parents of foreign professionals and their spouses will be extended from six months to one year.

The revised law also deals with retirement, health insurance, and tax benefits:

  • Foreign professionals with permanent residency are to be included in the national pension system (or the equivalent pension mechanism for full-time qualified teachers in public schools).
  • Foreign professionals and their family members will no longer be subject to a six-month waiting period for inclusion in National Health Insurance coverage.
  • For the first three years of work in Taiwan, foreign special professionals will be exempt from paying income tax on half of their annual salary in excess of NT$3 million.

In an interview with Taiwan Business TOPICS, NDC Deputy Minister Kao Shien-quey stressed that Taiwan, which is “at a critical point in its economic transformation,” has been facing a talent deficit. The government recognizes the need not only to cultivate domestic talent but to find ways to attract more talented foreign professionals, she noted, especially those with expertise in the fields Taiwan has identified as important for its future development. Besides the “5+2 Innovative Industries” (the Internet of Things, biomedicine, green energy, etc.), examples include artificial intelligence, fintech, ecommerce, and robotics. Other factors being equal, Kao considers it possible to attract around 2,000 such personnel over the next three years.

One reason Taiwan has performed poorly in the global competition for talent has been the stagnant salary level. Although the government cannot directly affect how much employers pay, Kao said, the new law is designed to improve non-wage aspects such as health insurance, retirement benefits, and the tax treatment of shares given as a bonus.

“Beyond that, we’re working hard to improve the investment environment to make Taiwan a place that people want to come to because it offers good opportunities,” she said.