Foreign talent recruitment a government priority: NDC chief

National Development Council (NDC) Minister Chen Mei-ling responds to questions at the Legislature on Oct. 19, 2017. The NDC head said Thursday that the government is giving priority to recruiting foreign professionals as part of its efforts to make the country more competitive. (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) – The government is giving priority to recruiting foreign professionals as part of its efforts to make the country more competitive, National Development Council (NDC) Minister Chen Mei-ling (陳美伶) said in the Legislature Thursday.

In an era of global knowledge economy, adequate human resources is what makes a country competitive, but Taiwan is at risk because of a talent shortage brought about by its low birth rate and aging population, Chen said.

Therefore, the government must give priority to recruiting more foreign professionals to fill the gap, she said at the opening of a joint session of the legislative Committees of Economics, Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene, and Education and Culture to resume review of the Draft Act for the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professional Talent.

The draft bill submitted by the NDC seeks to ease regulations pertaining to visas, taxes, insurance, pensions and residency for foreign white-collar workers in Taiwan and aims to make life more convenient for them, Chen said.

“The act will help us retain and recruit international talent needed for the future development and upgrade of Taiwanese industries and to boost Taiwan’s competitiveness,” she said.

However, Chen said, the controversial Article 20 of the draft bill will be removed to allay concerns that foreign nationals may take up jobs under the guise of internships.

The article states that foreign university students or graduates who have been out of school for less than two years may be granted an internship visa for a stay for up to two years.

During the legislative session, some lawmakers expressed worry that a greater intake of foreign professionals would squeeze the job market for Taiwanese. Other legislators, however, argued that the bill was too restrictive to effectively attract foreign talent.

Legislator Lin Tai-hua (林岱樺) of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said Article 17 of the draft act was “too conservative and too strict.” The article changes the current regulations to conditionally allow the adult children of foreign professionals employed in Taiwan to apply directly to the Ministry of Labor for a work permit without first securing a job.

The conditions attached to the draft regulation are that the adult children must either have entered Taiwan before the age of 16 and spent at least 270 days per year in the country since then; have accumulated a minimum 10 years of legal residence in Taiwan during which they stayed for more than 270 days each year; or were born in Taiwan and spent more than 183 days per year in the country for 10 consecutive years.

Lin said the article should be revised to list only one condition – that the adult children of legally employed foreign professionals be allowed to apply for an MOL work permit once their accumulated time in Taiwan amounts to 1,830 days over a 10-year period of residence.

She said Taiwan is experiencing a brain drain, as an average 720,000 citizens migrate overseas each year for work purposes, half of them to China.

“With Taiwan’s heavy restrictions, how can it compete for foreign talent, especially when cities like Shanghai are already giving foreign white collar workers the same benefits as citizens?” Lin asked, urging Taiwan to do the same.

DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) also called for greater incentives for foreign talent, saying that for example, their children should be given better and more educational options.

Noting that international technical schools are popular in the West, she said Taiwan should consider establishing such schools for the children of foreign professionals.

In response, Chen said the Ministry of Education is willing to set up bilingual classes or departments in elementary and junior high schools in areas where there is a high density of foreign professionals.

One of the opposing voices in the Legislature was Chen Yi-ming (陳宜民) of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), who said the NDC was ignoring the youth unemployment problem in Taiwan.

The NDC should conduct an assessment of how the draft bill would affect Taiwanese job seekers, he said.

KMT Legislator Chiang Nai-shin (蔣乃辛) also criticized the bill, saying that its definition of “foreign professionals” was too vague and that Taiwan should recruit foreign workers only in professions where there is a shortage.

For example, the draft bill includes cram school teachers in the categories of foreign professionals Taiwan is hoping to recruit, he noted.

“Are cram school teachers the professional talent we’re hoping to recruit?” Chiang asked.

During the session, Chen said in response to a question that the Cabinet was looking to start discussions next month on immigration policies related to Taiwan’s aging population crisis and was hoping to present its short-, mid- and long-term goals soon.

By Christie Chen