The Wild East / Editorial
The Taiwan media is notorious for being lame and vacuous, heavily relying on lightweight ‘coverage’ of food stories and the like, since restaurant ‘tributes’ are an important cash cow for them. Chinese New Year ‘reporting’ is especially pathetic. One TV station (must have been TVBS!) replayed the same exact ‘news story’ of distributing ‘hongbao’ (紅包 or red envelopes), at least three times, so far.
But recently The China Post published an editorial on living the ‘Taiwanese Dream’, and although clumsily written it was surprisingly relevant. It began to address the real need to relax restrictions on dual citizenship for expats, ‘foreign friends’ (as we’re called) in Taiwan.
Why is it so bloody difficult for foreigners to get Taiwan citizenship, anyway?
Even after years of marriage to a Taiwan spouse, for example, it is well-nigh impossible to ‘naturalize’ — a matter of course in other, real (!) countries.
Under current regulations, Americans must actually relinquish their U.S. citizenship to become Taiwanese. Now let that just sink in for a moment.
You have to give up your American passport … to gain a Taiwanese passport?! What the –?!
Let’s get this straight. These hapless former Americans would have to go through a mountain of red tape that would ensue with international travel thereafter, like forever? With your new, dubious, purely decorative little Taiwanese passport??! When Taiwan’s status is so nebulous and eternally in dispute??
No fricken way.
This dual citizenship controversy would be laughable, if it weren’t so unjust. Basically, it’s tantamount to being forced to defect. And who would want to do that?! Nobody. Well maybe some people, a growing number, actually, for tax purposes.
Effectively, Taiwan’s current policy on dual citizenship is such a punitive tradeoff for expats that it pretty much never happens.
Well, one of the few exceptions is US-born environmental lawyer, Robin Winkler of Wild at Heart Foundation, who actually gave up his passport in 2003 for a chance to build his life and work in Taiwan. He figured that becoming ‘Taiwanese’ should protect him from being deported for his at times controversial advocacy work.
When I interviewed Winkler for The China Post in 2009, he said: “I wanted to have only one citizenship, because I knew from observing how in past 30 years both DPP and KMT administrations have handled foreigners doing things that are ‘too political,’ such as participating in labor or any other movement that upsets government officials or companies. I wanted to make sure I had only one nationality to avoid being deported. And I’ve fallen in love with Taiwan; since I came here; I long ago decided I would stay here for the rest of my life.”
Winkler is also an interesting case because he tried to run for Taiwan legislature in 2009, with aspirations of presidency in the long-term. But then he encountered another anti-foreigner rule: one must have Taiwan citizenship 10 years before being eligible to run for office.
Winkler is just one of the rare exceptions. Taiwan also regularly nixes deserving supplicants for its citizenship; of late, father Brendan O’Connell who has worked with children with disabilities in Taiwan for the past 50 years! The cheek of it all!
On the other hand (!) you must have noticed how many Taiwanese people enjoy joint Taiwan-US citizenship, bestowed with all the benefits and privileges that entails. In fact, there has been a steady, decades-long braindrain of countless young Taiwanese who get educated, launch their career and basically are allowed to get on with their new lives in Canada and the U.S.
There are literally busloads of these individuals, Taiwanese families with joint citizenship. I interviewed them once for a story. These are now L.A. ‘tourists’ who regularly come back to Taiwan for vacations with their officially Taiwanese-American kids! Well now, aren’t they the lucky ones!
So, to summarize my point here: where is Taiwan’s reciprocity?
And why can’t North American officials — such as the U.S. State Department and American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) — broker a better arrangement, in the interest of improving the quality of life for its citizens abroad? Isn’t that their job?
Giving us fair treatment on the issue of dual citizenship should also be attended by improvements in other rights, such as the right to remain in Taiwan after divorce.
Currently, newly divorced expats without children must leave the ‘country’ and come back on a tourist or work visa again, just like everyone else coming to Taiwan – for the first time. Yes, really!
Unless there are kids or domestic violence is involved, the newly minted single foreigner is immediately deported, and thereafter treated like a tourist, again! Hello, visa runs! (Just GREAT – if you want to waste tons of money flying to shitty places like Hong Kong again).
And expat divorce and custody battles here are legendary for being so tragic. Since Taiwanese courts almost invariably hand over child custody and assets to the Taiwanese (typically woman since Caucasian foreign men do the lion’s share of marrying the locals), prepare to get totally ‘fleeced’ in that process!
As a result of these unfair divorce laws in Taiwan, several friends and acquaintances of mine have heart-breaking stories to tell from their traumatic experiences. They lose literally everything — their kids (and often all contact with them), home, life savings, their business.
Under current rules, ultimately we are even stripped of our ability to remain in Taiwan.
Another related concern is expats typically have the hardest time buying property in this ‘country’.
Fortunately, there is an elegant solution to the citizenship issue, and it has to do with Taiwan officials cultivating a more open, just worldview and the wisdom to recognize that it’s in Taiwan’s best interest to welcome talented foreign professionals — by allowing them to make their homes in Taiwan.
Besides, since Taiwan holds the world’s second lowest birthrate (after Japan), combined with the significant braindrain, there’s nothing to lose, is there? Only good people to gain!
So, do like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Taiwan, and give it away now!
And come on, lazy legislators, the least you can do is show up for your committee work and get something important done. That would be a nice change!