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Report blames rising illegal migration in Taiwan on government policy

Control Yuan investigation shows increasing illegal immigration, workers

A group of Vietnamese nationals attempting to illegally enter Taiwan are detained by the Coast Guard in August, 2023. (Taiwan Coast Guard photo)

A group of Vietnamese nationals attempting to illegally enter Taiwan are detained by the Coast Guard in August, 2023. (Taiwan Coast Guard photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan’s government auditor called for immediate improvements to immigration policy on Friday (Jan. 26) after an increase in human trafficking cases and illegal immigration resulted in at least 14 deaths in 2023, and nearly 1,300 arrests related to human smuggling over the past 5 years.

The Control Yuan said that an imbalance in Taiwan’s labor market and migrant labor policies is the fundamental reason for the high rate of illegal immigration and illegal migrant workers.

“Complex factors such as the debt constraints of high agency fees, low wages for legal jobs, unfriendly labor conditions, and industrial shortages have led to rising wages for illegal workers,” the government auditor's investigation found.

In October Taiwan’s labor ministry said 84,000 migrant workers were unaccounted for in Taiwan, a number that rose sharply during the pandemic. Meanwhile, concerns about human trafficking in Taiwan increased in March 2023 after the bodies of seven Vietnamese nationals were discovered among nine others found dead in the seas off Taiwan.

Lennon Wong (汪英達) of the Serve the People Association (SPA), a migrant worker advocacy and welfare group, linked the increase in undocumented workers to hurdles migrant workers face when changing jobs.

“I found a phenomenon that some factories that want workers only hire those that are already in Taiwan, who have finished the contract, or are laid off,” Wong told Taiwan News.

He said during the pandemic, migrant workers seeking to change employers before their contract was up could do so more easily, as employers were unable to bring in new labor from abroad. After pandemic restrictions were eased, Taiwanese companies returned to hiring new workers from abroad, Wong said.

Wong said this preference is driven by agents who earn fees from bringing in new staff to Taiwan. He also said factories may not want to hire a worker already in Taiwan who seeks to change employers before their contract has expired, for fear that they would be troublesome as an employee.

“In our shelters, most of the migrant workers are factory workers who cannot find jobs,” he said. “If they don’t want to go home, they might choose to just run away, and the amount doing this has raised a lot recently.”

The government auditor's investigation also found that the majority of those illegally entering Taiwan for work were Vietnamese nationals, who were both organizing and using smuggling services. Over the past five years the Coastguard caught 195 stowaways attempting to enter Taiwan, and arrested 1,128 people working illegally, more than 70% of whom were Vietnamese.

Wu Jing-ru (吳靜如), a researcher from the Taiwan International Workers Association (TIWA), told Taiwan News that Vietnamese migrant workers pay some of the highest placement fees of any nationality. She said this contributes to the willingness to enter Taiwan and work illegally.

Wu said recently Vietnamese migrant workers have been charged between US$5,000 to US$6,000 (about NT$156,000 to NT$187,000) by brokers when coming to Taiwan. Wu said that if placement fees are eliminated, and transparent, equitable, and safe immigration pathways are opened to migrant workers, illegal immigration would not be an issue.

“If this existed, who would take the risk of going down the illegal path?” she said.