Taiwan’s foreign community has been delighted to see the overwhelming international recognition of Taiwan’s success in battling the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many foreign residents have also been dismayed at the lack of compassion and consideration for their interests conveyed in a number of recent policies.
A series of decisions that exclude or unfairly target foreigners has been announced since March, though some have been reversed after objections were raised. For a time, for example, only Taiwanese citizens were allowed to send masks abroad and then only to other Taiwanese citizens. Now that mask production has reached 20 million per day, that restriction has been lifted.
In late June, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs began easing entry restrictions, but stipulated that all foreign nationals, regardless of immigration status, would be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result upon arrival in Taiwan. Many prominent figures in the expat community took to social media to express their concerns. A few days later, the Central Epidemic Command Center backtracked to say that foreigners holding ARCs and APRCs would be exempted from this requirement. This is something the government should have gotten right the first time.
In addition, low-interest small business loans as part of the government’s NT$1.05 trillion epidemic-relief package were made available to help companies in hard-hit sectors cover revenue losses. However, administration of the loans was left to the banks, which have long followed discriminatory policies regarding lending to foreign-owned businesses. To qualify for these – or any – loans, such businesses must have a local guarantor who is also a part owner and has property in Taiwan.
Stimulus policies affect individual foreign residents as well. In early July, distribution started of stimulus vouchers and travel subsidies meant to spur economic activity and boost Taiwan’s heavily affected tourism industry. Later in the month, the Ministry of Culture launched its own voucher program, consisting of NT$600 coupons to be used for cultural and arts-related spending.
Although foreign residents pay taxes on income earned in Taiwan, these benefits are only being offered to Taiwanese citizens and the foreign spouses of citizens. Moreover, they are being withheld from Taiwan’s many migrant workers, a low-income group that would greatly benefit from some extra spending power.
When longtime Taiwan Business TOPICS contributor Steven Crook reached out to government agencies regarding this discriminatory policy for a recent report in the Taipei Times, he was met with shoulder-shrugging and buck-passing. When he finally managed to speak to a representative at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, many of his questions went completely unanswered. This lack of inclusiveness and transparency is especially maddening given the government’s stated wish in recent years to make Taiwan a more open, welcoming environment for foreigners.
No one ever wants to be treated like the “other.” At a time of global crisis like the one we are now facing, it is even more critical for Taiwan to act not only in the best interests of its citizenry, but also that of the foreign residents who call the island home.