Life & Art
Is the Gold Card scheme bold enough?
The Taiwan Employment Gold Card scheme has been in force since 2018. There are some impediments to this highly-skilled migrant programme working well which we need to deal with, as well as looking at other ways of attracting more people to move here.
By Lee Faulkner
Taiwan is very close to becoming a “super-aged society” in which over 20% of its population is over the age of 65, and that raw demographic problem presents huge issues for our society. This is exacerbated by Taiwan being at or near the bottom of the world’s league tables when it comes to birth rates and fertility rates. Migration is one way to fix the demographics, and the Gold Card scheme is a helpful contributor, but there are too many ancillary issues that are getting in the way of it working properly. And it cannot, alone, provide the numbers of people we need.
Background and history
The Taiwan Employment Gold Card, to give it its official name, is a combined visa, work permit, and residence permit. The card gives you the right to stay and work in Taiwan for between one and three years, and you can apply online without sponsorship. It comes with open-work rights, so you can work for any (or multiple) companies in Taiwan or start your own business. As of today, more than 7,000 have been issued.
There are ten industries that are covered by the scheme: Science and Technology, Economics, Education, Culture and Arts, Sport, Finance, Law, Architecture, Defence, and Digital. There is an additional category for "Special Cases" that covers internationally-recognised prize winners and certain types of entrepreneur.
Tax reductions for cardholders are given in the first five years of residency, and a fast track to permanent residency is available after three years.
The Taiwan Employment Gold Card Office was created by the National Development Council and provides a single point of contact for current cardholders and new applicants. From my personal experience, the office is both efficient and helpful. It issues monthly newsletters, organises networking events, and provides a list of "suitable jobs" for those who arrive in Taiwan without one.
What gets in the way of it being more effective?
The most interesting gripe I've seen about the Gold Card scheme was from a European expat - the basis of his complaint was that his pay didn’t compare favourably with other expat destinations, that he didn't seem to get the respect that he thought the world owed him, and that a lot of the things he liked doing in his previous life weren’t available in Taiwan. I think he must have missed "someone to plump up my pillows for me" off his list. Arrogance and a sense of entitlement aren't going to get you anywhere, but there are real hurdles to expats settling here that need to be addressed.
The first, and my primary bugbear, is the banks. Taiwan's banks operate a form of bureaucratic tyranny that is out of control and a serious impediment to anyone, Gold Card holder or otherwise, who seeks to live in Taiwan. The banks will not offer simple, risk-free, transaction-only accountants without a paraphernalia of requirements that most people coming to Taiwan under the Gold Card scheme, by definition, cannot meet. If you do not have a job before coming here then forget it, no account for you! If you do not have a fixed abode when you arrive then, again, forget it - no can do! Want to set up a new business? Don’t make me laugh! Just to remind you - the Gold Card scheme allows you to come here without a job, and to set up a business if you choose to, so why do we allow these sclerotic institutions to not only stymie but deliberately impede those freedoms? Nearly every single piece of feedback about the scheme from new arrivals mentions the difficulty or impossibility of opening a bank account here, but nobody seems to have the power to end this tyranny.
Housing is the next - Taiwan does not have a large stock of decent, affordable accommodation, particularly for people with families, so finding a place to live is a big issue. And yet some landlords make it worse by not renting to foreigners because they judge the certainty of rental income to be less than for locals - that is not only stupid and prejudiced, it is a self-fulfilling danger to the very economy they rely on for the stability of their rental income.
The third main problem is that not enough people know about the scheme; for example a school recently would not let a student enrol without the parent providing a copy of their employment contract, something that is not required under the Gold Card scheme as it is not employer-specific. I was told not so long ago that my Gold Card was not a valid identification document for something as trivial as enrolling in a language class, and had to show my passport instead.
What’s preventing more people applying?
The people eligible to come to Taiwan under the scheme seem to have been categorised according to which ministry of the Taiwan civil service would be responsible for checking the validity of your qualifications and appropriateness of your experience. But there are plenty of skill sets and work experience that wouldn’t fit into any specific one of them - the world economy doesn’t necessarily follow the structure of the Taiwan civil service.
There is also an over-reliance on job titles - for my industry sector I had to demonstrate that I had held a senior managerial title, but why? If I was a pure technician, but not an actual manager or with a title that says “manager”, then that would have excluded me. A job title can mean anything you want it to mean; the number of “vice presidents” you can find in most American corporations rather proves the point.
Taiwan is a good and familiar choice
If you are in Taiwan already I don’t need to spell out why this is such a great country to live in - you will have figured that out for yourselves. But is that message reaching the parts of the world that we need it to? If you watch TV in any Western country then most news items about Taiwan are likely to be about the threat of invasion from China. Sometimes the essential role that Taiwan plays in the world’s supply chains for semiconductors makes the headlines. But how many people know enough about Taiwan’s pluralism and freedoms, its extremely low corruption rate, its Asia-topping rankings of press freedom and censorship, its world-beating personal safety, its lifestyle and culture, its natural beauty?
Taiwan should be easy for most people to fit into as it is the country in Asia most similar to what most of us are used to - democratic, free, capitalist, cultural, friendly, interesting - in other words way better than most of its Asian alternatives. In Taiwan you don’t have to worry about restrictions on free speech as you do in China and Hong Kong, or the stultifying censorship of Singapore, or the lèse-majesté laws of Thailand, or the aching hierarchy and rigidity of work practices in Japan. Taiwan is the most familiar place in Asia for most expats, and familiarity is what people crave, but that message isn’t getting out.
More immigrants please!
The Gold Card initiative is a welcome contribution to Taiwan's demographic issues, but in the overall scheme of things it is just a dribble - we need tens or hundreds of thousands of migrants to Taiwan, not just a handful, albeit a well-qualified handful of Gold Card holders.
Migrants to Taiwan not only help with demographics, but are also an excellent supply of ambassadors and advocates to sing Taiwan’s praises. Every single migrant is another spine in the "porcupine strategy" that protects us - if you move here and have a good impression then you will be an ambassador, and the more that come the wider and deeper that message will reach the rest of the world. Compare Taiwan with other countries in the region: How many people are moving to China? How many are leaving Hong Kong? Why has living in Singapore become so problematic because of the cost of living there? Taiwan has so many advantages that we are throwing away because not enough people know about us. The fewer that do know and can sing our praises, the more isolated we would be if we were attacked - low recognition means less willingness to help us out financially or militarily if the worst were to happen.
We need a bit of boldness here - what if we offered a three-year visa to anyone who had a university degree from a recognised institution, was from an "acceptable" country, and wanted to come here? The existing six-month graduate work exchange schemes that Taiwan has with many countries are fine as far as they go, but they are too limiting - why place a 20-hour work limit on people? Do we want to help them settle in and contribute, or hassle them and make it difficult? Why don’t we want them to stay? If we need more people, which we do, then we must be more relaxed about who we let settle here. Taiwan has a shortage of both blue collar and white collar workers and it would benefit from more young people willing to do menial jobs that Taiwanese don’t want to do as well as entrepreneurial, internationally-minded people from all across the region and the west.
So, a good scheme but…
The Taiwan Gold Card scheme is a great initiative, but there are problems that are no fault of the scheme itself but that must be addressed. Welcome though it is, the scheme is not on a scale that is going to solve Taiwan’s demographic problems either in the short- or long-term. We need other, perhaps less elitist immigration plans.
Taiwan has a lot to offer, and should be the most familiar place to live in Asia for so many people, but that message isn’t getting through. I remain one of Taiwan's biggest fans, and I'm sure you are too, and every one of us should give something back to the country that gives us a home by willingly becoming an ambassador ourselves and encouraging others to move here.
Lee Faulkner is a Fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, the UK’s actuarial body, and has more than 30 years' experience in the world of financial services in Asia, Europe and Latin America. He is a Taiwan Gold Card holder and now lives in Taipei.