2007-02-13

Thy People, My People

It is not generally appreciated around the world that Taiwan is a magnet for immigrants. Thousands of newcomers are drawn to the island's shores every year. Many of these new Taiwanese arrive as the result of marriage. Zoe Cheng describes the situation in the latest Taiwan Review:

Currently there are about 133,000 spouses of resident Taiwanese from Southeast Asia, along with another 233,000 from the People's Republic of China. More than 90 percent of these cases involve a Taiwanese man marrying a woman from abroad. Currently, in one in four newly registered marriages in Taiwan, one of the partners is either Southeast Asian or a PRC national, while one in seven newborns is the product of a mixed marriage. The result is that Taiwan is turning from ethnic homogeneity to diversity, and its insular society is suddenly having to cope with an influx of large numbers of outsiders. How these newcomers are integrated into mainstream Taiwanese society and the changes their presence will inevitably bring about are some of the most important cultural questions Taiwan faces. [....]

For the women, the principal reason for marrying a Taiwanese is to be able to emigrate to a substantially wealthier country. It is not just that they are attracted by the higher standard of living available in Taiwan, but also that they hope to be able to send more money home to their families than they could expect to earn if they stayed and worked in their own countries. Immigrants from the Philippines and Thailand have been entering Taiwan for marriage since the 1970s but it was not until the 1990s, when Taiwanese businesses rapidly expanded into Southeast Asia, that this started happening in really large numbers. Figures from last year show that 56 percent of Southeast Asian spouses were from Vietnam and another 19 percent from Indonesia, the remainder being from Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and the Philippines. [....]

The number of overseas spouses from China is, in fact, twice that of those from Southeast Asia. If less attention seems to be paid to how they integrate into Taiwanese society, it is perhaps because the primary problem of language does not exist in their case.

Chinese spouses, however, have their own problems. They come from a place deemed hostile to Taiwan. The complications of Taiwan and China's ambiguous formal relationship means that Chinese spouses fall under a set of Taiwanese laws different from those applying to spouses from other countries. [....] Whereas "foreign" spouses can work immediately on receipt of Alien Resident status, which is conferred in as long as it takes to process the paperwork after arrival in Taiwan, Chinese spouses cannot work freely until they have permanent residence, i.e. six years after arrival. Before this they must obtain a permit to work legally. There is more. For a Chinese spouse to work as a government employee requires another 10 years' residency in Taiwan after naturalization.

Ms Cheng goes on to explore the challenges and rewards of immigration, together with the ways new arrivals in turn challenge and enrich Taiwan society.

The complete article appears online at Taiwan Review.

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