First 'new immigrant' legislator looks back on achievements

Cambodian-born legislator will continue to represent new immigrants in Taiwan's politics

Lin Li-chan (Middle in black) photographed with audience

Lin Li-chan (Middle in black) photographed with audience (Taiwan News photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — After almost four years in the legislature, Cambodian-born Lin Li-chan (林麗蟬) shared her life experience at a forum held by the Fair Winds Foundation on Jan. 4.

Lin made the headlines in November when the Kuomintang (KMT) released its legislator-at-large candidate list. Her absence was interpreted by some critics as the KMT abandoning its new immigrant supporters.

Watching Lin speaking in fluent Chinese and Taiwanese, it is hard to imagine she was once the Cambodian bride of an arranged marriage when she first came to Taiwan 23 years ago. In 1997, Lin's mother followed the recommendation of a matchmaker to marry off her daughter to a Taiwanese man.

The wedding ceremony took just three hours. She believed the arrangement would be best for her daughter as the family had been struggling since her husband's death.

Lin opened a new page in her life in Taiwan when she decided to learn Chinese at college. "I accidentally heard my children talking behind my back about how their Chinese was better than mine," Lin recalled, laughing.

She spent seven years at school earning degrees while volunteering at remote villages and devoting herself to community services. She won the Ten Outstanding Young Women Awards and was voted a "Folk Hero" by Global Views Monthly in 2012 and 2013.

In 2016, she entered the legislature as the KMT's legislator-at-large after becoming a member of the Executive Yuan youth advisory board.

Four years in the legislature saw her bring to light the many difficulties faced by new immigrants in Taiwan. She also campaigned for several completed amendments to related laws.

Under her guiding hand, the friendlier terms "new immigrants" and "new residents" have gradually replaced words such as "wailao" (foreign laborers) and "waiji xin niang" (foreign brides).

Lin Li-chan shows her appreciation to her supporters.

Because of her relentless efforts, new Chinese residents received the right to work for governmental entities as temporary employees or contractors, free from the previous 10-year ban after acquiring Taiwanese nationality. She also helped foreign pregnant women who lived in New Taipei City receive subsidies for medical checks before getting coverage from public health insurance, which only begins six months after their arrival.

"I never thought I could enter university and even the legislature, but I made it and I am studying for my Ph.D. now," said Lin, proudly. As for her next goal after leaving the legislature? "I will keep promoting the establishment of the New Immigrants Affair Council within the government, so one day, all residents in Taiwan will be treated equally regardless of their origins," Lin said.