Migrant workers are backing a proposal by lawmakers to increase the total number of years foreign nationals can work in Taiwan, saying it would benefit those who wish to work longer in the nation to support their families back home.
“This is good for us. Many Indonesian workers do not want to go back yet, because they have to support their families and earn their children’s college tuition,” said Nanik Riyati, an Indonesian caregiver who has worked in Taiwan for seven years.
Nineteen lawmakers, including Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiang Huei-chen (江惠貞), proposed an amendment to the Employment Service Act (就業服務法) at the legislature on Wednesday that would allow foreign workers to work a total of 15 years in Taiwan, compared with the current maximum of 12.
Nanik said some of her friends have reluctantly left for Hong Kong after approaching the 12-year limit. Places such as Hong Kong and South Korea do not set a ceiling on the aggregate number of years foreign nationals can work in their territories.
Cathy from the Philippines, who wished only to be identified by her first name, said she would benefit greatly if the proposed amendment passes.
“Salary in the Philippines is not the same as it is here. It is not enough,” said the 39 year-old, who has worked as a caregiver in Taiwan for six years.
A mother of four, with her eldest in college, Cathy said she would like to stay in Taiwan “as long as possible,” because she has four kids to support, adding that “when I get older I cannot work.”
“A lot of Filipinos, they want to stay in Taiwan, but if they cannot come back, they will apply [to work in] Canada,” Cathy said.
Mary, a 39-year-old Filipino who works at an electronics factory, said that, with three children to support, she was also hoping to work longer in Taiwan, where she can earn much more than in her home country. Mary, who also wished to be identified only by her first name, said she earned about 12,000 Philippine pesos (US$271.49) when she worked at a garment factory in the Philippines prior to coming to Taiwan. She now earns double that amount.
In addition to the proposal allowing foreign nationals to work for up to 15 years in Taiwan, lawmakers also proposed scrapping a regulation requiring migrant workers to leave the nation for at least one day every three years when their work permit expires.
“The three-year restriction is a lot of trouble for us, and very expensive too,” Nanik said.
Round-trip airplane tickets and visa fees can easily exceed NT$25,000, and Nanik, who is from Central Java, has to travel 12 hours by bus to Jakarta to get her visa renewed each time.
Meanwhile, Cathy said she has to pay between 80,000 and 95,000 pesos to Filipino brokers every time she returns to Taiwan to work, an amount that equals about four months of her salary.
“We have no choice, because we want to go to Taiwan to work,” Mary said.
Ministry of Labor statistics show that, as of Feb. 28, there were 513,570 legally employed foreign workers in Taiwan and 44,204 foreign workers whose whereabouts were unknown. The largest contingent of foreign workers in Taiwan comes from Indonesia, with 230,000 people working in the nation, according to the figures.
While migrant workers see the amendment as a form of progress, Taiwan International Workers’ Association policy researcher Chen Hsiu-lien (陳秀蓮) said there should be no cap on the number of years foreign workers can work in Taiwan in the first place.
Taiwan’s immigration laws have already ruled out the possibility of migrant workers obtaining a Taiwanese national identification card based on the number of years they stay in the nation, so there is no point to a cap, Chen said.
While many might benefit from the proposed amendment, for Nanik, nine years away from home is already too long. When she finishes her ninth year, she will be ready to go home to Indonesia, the mother of a seven-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter said.
“They have grown up. They need me beside them. It has been too long,” she said.