Activists slam visa-waiver plan


TOO BLUE? Former migrant workers from five nations will not be eligible to visit Taiwan under a new visa-waiver plan. Critics blasted the program as elitist and discriminatory.

Labor activist groups yesterday accused the government of discriminating against blue-collar workers from South and Southeast Asian nations in a new visa-waiver program that began on Sunday.

A statement on the Web sites of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the National Immigration Agency (NIA) said citizens from India, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia can enjoy visa-free entry into Taiwan for visits up to 30 days if they hold a valid visa — or permanent residency — from “advanced countries,” including the US, Canada, Japan, the UK, the Schengen countries, Australia and New Zealand.

“Those who meet the above criteria and who have never been hired in Taiwan to work on blue-collar foreign laborer jobs” may register through an online NIA database to apply for visa-free entry, the statement said.

Former migrant workers, however, are excluded even if they have the appropriate documentation.

“This is clear discrimination based on social class,” said Wu Jing-ju (吳靜如), secretary-general of the Taiwan International Workers’ Association.

“Is the government trying to say that people from the lower classes have no right to be tourists? Using state power to restrict and to discriminate against certain social classes is something that a government should not do,” Wu said.

Taiwan Labor Front secretary-general Son Yu-lian (孫友聯) called the policy “stupid” when asked for a comment.

“This is pure discrimination — how can you exclude a group of people just because they have once worked here as a blue-collar worker?” Son said.

“Besides, how do you define which countries are ‘advanced?’” Son said.

Most of the nations on the list of “advanced countries” — the US, Canada, Japan, the UK and those in the EU — do not import blue-collar workers from Southeast Asia.

“It’s unlikely that they would obtain visas from those countries as blue-collar workers and come back to Taiwan and work illegally,” Son said.

It was even more unlikely they would give up their legal residency in other countries to work illegally in Taiwan, Son said.

“This policy will severely damage Taiwan’s image in the international community,” Son said.

The immigration agency and foreign ministry defended the policy, saying that it was meant to deter illegal workers and protect job opportunities for Taiwanese.

“There is a phenomenon where some workers, after leaving Taiwan, go to another country to work as a foreign laborer, which means they would hold a valid visa from that particular country,” National Immigration Agency Deputy Director-General Huang Bi-hsia (黃碧霞) said.

“We want to make sure these people do not come back to Taiwan to work illegally,” Huang said.

Former migrant workers who obtain permanent residency from an NIA approved country would still be excluded from the visa-waiver program, she said.

However, former migrant workers from the five South and Southeast Asian nations were still welcome to visit Taiwan as tourists if they went through the visa application process, she said.

The policy’s effectiveness would be reviewed “after a certain time period” to assess the need to expand or restrict it, Huang said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Henry Chen (陳銘政) said there were approximately 30,000 illegal workers in Taiwan.

Chen said the term “advanced country” was used in the plan according to international protocol and is based on GDP and per capita income.