Letter: Naturalization Citizenship/Immigration Reform Must Happen For Taiwan to Become the Hub of Asia

Archaic rule that foreign nationals renounce citizenship to be nationalized deters overseas talent

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The author at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. (By Janelle Belle)

The author at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. (By Janelle Belle)

To the Editor:

Did you know Taiwan is one of the few countries that require a foreign national wishing to be naturalized to renounce their birth citizenship? In other words Taiwan doesn’t allow dual citizenship for foreigners who become naturalized, but allows its own Taiwanese born citizens to hold dual citizenship. Why?

While the Executive Yuan did recently relax the rules for foreign spouses and potential naturalized foreigners, it’s still not enough. Far from it. If Taiwan wants to grow to become the Silicon Valley of Asia then it must quickly evolve its immigration law to allow for many more foreign talents to come to Taiwan. As it stands, the current prospective immigration laws restrict any true growth. Your only exit strategy really is to get married or try your hand at citizenship after years of working.

Current Problems with Citizenship & Immigration

As it stands, the law no longer requires foreign spouses or foreign professionals to renounce their citizenship before applying for Taiwanese citizenship. However, eventually foreign nationals must renounce their birth citizenship (or any other passports) within 1 year of obtaining Taiwanese citizenship.

This is flawed for a few reasons, many which just don’t make sense in comparison to the grand scale of what Tsai Ing Wen’s vision is for Taiwan.

  1. Double Standard: Taiwan allows its born citizens the right to hold multiple citizenships without losing their Taiwanese passport. Taiwanese can go to the US and if granted, hold a US Passport AND Taiwanese Passport. The reverse is not true for an American citizen (except for those born to Taiwanese nationals). If an American, Canadian, or any other national wants to naturalize and become Taiwanese, they must renounce their citizenship.

  2. Limited Routes to Citizenship: Compared to the USA (arguably one of the hardest countries in the world to immigrate to), Taiwan has very limited paths to citizenship. Meanwhile the USA has nearly 30 different paths (and growing) to obtaining a citizenship, some which can skip the green card altogether. In fiscal year 2015, USCIS naturalized 729,995 people

  1. Permanent Residency Required: Unless you’re getting married, you must obtain an APRC to apply for citizenship in most cases. Many other countries such as Japan do not require this.

Why Immigration and Citizenship Reform Must Happen Now:

If you take a look at Silicon Valley, the hub that Taipei want’s to emulate , you’ll notice it’s densely populated with expat talent from around the world. New York City is also another great example of foreigners from many backgrounds coming together as one.

Taipei on the other hand is limited to mainly English teaching talent and marketing/sales. This is due largely to the insanely difficult and hard to navigate immigration policy and citizenship policy as its stands.

When you want foreigners to bring their unique talent to a country, they expect long term growth and potential. But as it stands, giving up your birth citizenship in exchange for citizenship (which grants easier work prospecting due to labor laws), doesn’t sound very appealing to most.

The Need For Diversification and More People In General

Taiwan really needs this immigration because it has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and on the other hand the need for talented expats is required to boost Taiwan’s competitiveness across multiple fields.

Taiwan honestly is seriously lacking in the marketing department, sales, branding, and user experience - just a few integral fields that expats can bring new light to. These skills can translate to a variety of verticals which Taiwan is already excelling at but is still clueless on how to capitalize on a global scale.

Foreign Investment Is Needed to Rapidly Grow

While the economy isn’t necessarily hurting, it could use foreign investment and foreign partners to help facilitate new channels of growth and distribution. But in order to do this, Taiwan needs a lot more expats. Foreign investment will come by way of following expats to wherever they are demanded, and their respective country’s investors will only go where fellow countrymen have domain knowledge in.

How can an expat with this type of leverage be enticed to join Taiwanese companies or start their own, when the restrictive hiring process is skewed towards those with an open work permit or citizenship? Many startups who are innovating simply cannot afford a steady balance between local and foreign talent, it simply isn’t worth the hassle.

The Current Work Permit Requirements Are a Lose-Lose Situation

First of all many extremely talented expats may not have a complete college degree which already eliminates a handful of senior level talent from immigrating easily to Taiwan. They can forget about citizenship unless they marry someone (see the recurring option?)

Secondly, the fact that employers face ridiculous requirements to hire foreigners makes it skewed so that many prefer only to hire those with citizenship, APRC, open work permit, etc. Why not relax this entire process further?

Lastly, many people come to Taiwan for work but end up leaving because who wants to give up their citizenship or work potentially more than 5 years straight just to live permanently in a place they want to call their forever home?

Not many. Unless they’re tied down by family, a spouse, or their own business, there is little incentive to continue to invest in Taiwan in the long term.

Immigration Won’t Cause Overpopulation or Loss of Local Talent’s Jobs

As it stands, a recent survey conducted found that nearly 80% of Taiwanese in the work force would rather work abroad and leave Taiwan due to poor salary, labor conditions, and potential mobility. That’s pretty terrible and is an entire issue in itself.

That being said, there are in fact a plethora of people leaving the country at an alarming rate to work abroad. That leaves more room and demand for expat talent.

Couple that with one of the lowest birthrates in the world and an aging population, and it’s apparent that Taiwan still has plenty of room for human capital. There is an even ebb and flow of population loss and growth.

What Countries Allow Dual Citizenship - One is Taiwan’s Greatest Competitor

There are a over 30 countries that allow dual citizenship, many of them being global super powers or 1st world countries. One of them is Taiwan’s greatest competitor and lit’s not China.

Here are a list of just three that are comparable to Taiwan:

  1. South Korea: Arguably Taiwan’s number one competitor in terms of GDP, PDP, and population density, South Korea makes it very easy for expats to become dual citizens of this booming peninsula country. Not to mention Korea is an expert at marketing itself through pop culture, Kpop, and medical tourism. A huge asset that Taiwan doesn’t have, but easily could with the help of expat talent.

  2. Bangladesh: If you are inclined to, you can easily become a citizen of this South East Asian country where manufacturing is still booming. Dual citizenship is encouraged.

  3. Jamaica: While not known for its GDP or global exports, Jamaica allows dual citizenship.

The Solution Is Clear, But Will Tsai Improve?

President Tsai Ing Wen has commented multiple times on the need for Taipei to become the global economic heart of Asia. Right now, Taiwan has the potential to take that title as competition is still new. But with the rise of Vietnam’s relaxed foreign investment policies and immigration/citizenship, and the impeding KPOP influence from Korea, Taiwan will soon see itself in the shadows of nations who’ve heavily invested in becoming a diverse society.

If Taiwan wants to increase its economic and political influence then Taiwan must quickly make immigration reform a priority. Once relaxed laws are in place, dual citizenship is allowed, and more paths to citizenship are announced , then and only then will Taiwan be able to attract the best talent the world can offer.

Until then long term investment of one's time, money, and energy into a place where their future is uncertain seems to be a craps game that even Macau offers better odds in.

By Janelle Belle

Janelle is a branding and marketing consultant working/ living in Taipei.