The number of recipients of Taiwan's employment gold card, a special work and residency permit for highly skilled foreign talent, took a big jump in 2020, reflecting Taiwan's attractiveness as a safe heaven amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
That year, a total of 1,399 foreign nationals received the card that serves as a work permit, resident visa, alien resident certificate and re-entry permit all in one, according to government statistics. The figure was far higher than 358 in 2019, and 188 in 2018, the year when the Cabinet-level National Development Council (NDC) launched the Employment Gold Card system to attract overseas talent in professional fields.
The Gold Card system is open to foreign professionals and technicians in several fields, from science and technology and education, to culture and the arts, sports, and "economic" fields. These are all specified in the Act for the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professional Talent, which took effect on Feb. 8, 2018.
Other fields covered since then are finance, architecture, and law, according to the Taiwan Gold Card Office (TGC), created by the NDC to serve as a single contact point to help foreign professionals with the process.
As of Jan. 31, 2021, a total of 2,127 gold cards had been issued to foreign professionals, including 1,468 to those "economic fields," followed by 228 in the "technology" category, 164 in "culture and arts," 132 in "finance," 128 in "education," six in "architecture," and one in the "sports" category.
It is no coincidence that Taiwan's attractiveness as a base for young professionals has grown the longer the COVID-19 pandemic has maintained its grip on Western economies.
"Never seen so many people interested in coming to Taiwan," Taiwanese-American start-up entrepreneur Dave Lu (呂曉龍) told CNA in a January interview. A gold card holder himself, Lu moved his family from California to Taiwan last year.
Lu has worked in technology for more than 20 years at companies such as Yahoo!, Sony, Apple and eBay before joining startup Pure Digital, which was later acquired by Cisco. He is now the president and co-founder of Pared, a venture-backed restaurant labor market network.
Lu, who also founded Taiwan X, an organization that helps Taiwanese entrepreneurs, with YouTube co-founder Steve Chen (陳士駿), said living in Taiwan allows him to connect Taiwan's technology groups with those in the United States.
But there were several other reasons for his move to Taiwan, he said. This included the serious COVID-19 outbreak and tense political environment in the U.S. and Taiwan's safer and more stable environment that offers the increasingly rare commodity of "normality."
Why move to Taiwan?
Many people have come to Taiwan from around the world, including several without any connection to it, largely because of Taiwan's "safety" and "normality," the Lu said. He praised Taiwan's pandemic control achievements and said he was happy to see a growing number of foreign nationals in different cultural and educational backgrounds start and develop their careers in Taiwan.
Korean-American Danial Kang, who also moved to Taiwan from California last year, applied for a gold card in August and got it in late October. The 28-year-old told CNA that while many countries adopted lockdown measures to contain COVID outbreaks, a friend of his living in Taiwan showed him photos of people gathering and dining normally at local restaurants.
He was yearning for that kind of "surreal normality," Kang said, praising Taiwan's government for taking effective measures in response to the pandemic and Taiwanese for being highly self-disciplined and alert in facing the challenge. An environment in which people can live and work without having to worry about outbreaks of disease is "very attractive," he said.
Beyond gold card holders, Taiwan also saw a surge in the number of white-collar foreign nationals who came to Taiwan to work in 2020. There where 36,987 foreign white-collar workers in Taiwan as of Nov. 30, 2020, nearly 6,000, or 18.8 percent, more than at the end of 2019 before the pandemic started, Ministry of Labor statistics showed.