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FOCUS December 2017 Volume 90

Marriage Immigrants in Taiwan

Jun-Hong Chen

Based on the most recent data from the Ministry of the Interior (Taiwan), over 520,000 foreign spouses from China and Southeast Asian countries have married Taiwanese since 1997. They are mostly rural women from poor families. Just like everyone else, they dream of a happy marriage and a better future. However, after arriving in Taiwan, they realize that the whole society holds a strong tendency to treat them as “others.” Additionally, the current immigration policies are not supportive of the well-being of marriage immigrants. With access to available resources and assistance mostly blocked, marriage immigrants are expected to adjust to the new surroundings that are not friendly to them. They face many barriers including but not limited to those related to legal, family stability, employment opportunity, and mental health matters. 

Hardships Encountered by Immigrant Women
Marriage immigrants in Taiwan suffer from a number of problems caused by the existing laws and societal attitude.

1) Risk of becoming stateless
Article 9 of the Nationality Act requires foreigners in applying to become naturalized Taiwanese citizens to submit a “certification of his/her loss of previous nationality.”1  Article 19 of the law states that the Ministry of Interior can revoke such citizenship if the naturalization application was not in accordance with the requirements of the law (Article 3). These provisions of the law have been applied to marriage immigrants. In a number of cases, the Ministry of Interior revoked their Taiwanese citizenship after court conviction for committing fraudulent marriage. However, this legal application ignores the problems in fraudulent marriage cases. Many marriage immigrants suffer from language barrier, lack of information and knowledge about the laws in Taiwan as well as lack of legal assistance for their defense in court. Anyone (including in-laws and friends) can report them for any reason to the police for having fraudulent marriage. Furthermore, the Ministry of Interior still revoked their Taiwanese citizenship even when the courts had ruled that they should not be so penalized because they committed very minor acts of fraud. In these cases, the immigrants had genuine marriages but they lied about their age on the marriage certificate or other documents. The revocation of citizenship by the Ministry of Interior to punish petty crime offenders is not justified. This penalty results in statelessness of the affected marriage immigrants. Other available penalties should be used instead.

2) Violation of the right to family reunion
Under Article 31 of the Immigration Act, divorced foreign spouses can continue to reside in Taiwan if they 1) have the guardianship of their children or 2) have been judicially declared divorced on ground of domestic violence and have minor children. The children should have permanent residence status in both cases.2  And if the foreign spouses do not meet the financial requirement to become naturalized Taiwanese citizen, they can only legally reside in Taiwan until their children reach the age of 20. 

Foreigners who want to stay in Taiwan for a long time can apply for an alien permanent residence rather than seek Taiwanese citizenship. Once the application is approved, they receive the alien permanent residence certificate (APRC). Foreigners who have obtained permanent residence can continue to reside in Taiwan without getting married and regardless of their employment, study or similar statuses. This saves them the trouble of having to extend their residence permit every one or three years. Apart from these advantages, however, having an APRC does not confer any other tangible rights. Since APRC holders are not Taiwanese citizens and do not have citizen’s identity cards, they do not enjoy the rights of citizens. 

Marriage immigrants who obtained Taiwanese citizenship should obtain citizen’s identity card to guarantee their enjoyment of the rights of citizens including continued stay in Taiwan. Unfortunately, some families of Taiwanese spouses intentionally keep the immigrant spouses under their control by not helping them get the citizen’s identity card, and this has given rise to many conflicts and misunderstandings.

3) Flawed Interpretation Services
The government should undertake a thorough review of the various types of interpretation services both within each agency and in an interagency setting, and establish a comprehensive set of standard operating procedures for each type of interpretation services, as well as rules in ensuring respect for the interpreters’ labor rights. Funding should be allocated, in accordance with Article 7 of Taiwan’s Act to Implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to develop comprehensive training and certification standards for different forms of interpretation services, as well as service quality evaluations and proofreading mechanism for translated judicial documents. 

Besides, there is no clear and uniform mandate among government agencies for the allocation of sufficient budget to train, provide and manage interpretation services; various agencies have their own regulations regarding the provision of interpretation services. As a result, central government agencies, local governments, the police and the legal aid system often find themselves short on interpretation services capacity.

Interpretation services not only ensure the foreigners’ rights as accused, they also directly affect a person’s right to life, liberty and property, as well as other rights in matters such as medical service and household registration. Taiwan’s lack of comprehensive interpretation system is not only inconsistent with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but also a violation of the due process principle in a modern state.

4) The stigmatization of marriage immigrants
Some people regard immigrant women as “gold diggers” and characterize them as “social problems” because they question their (immigrant women’s) ability to raise children and their loyalty in marriage. People call them “Foreign Brides” which implies pervasive xenophobia and discrimination against marriage immigrant women. The immigrant women are not only seen as "outsiders" but also as Taiwanese men’s subordinates. The gender stereotype intertwined with Chinese ethnocentrism make immigrant women, who occupy a lower socio-economic position, the voiceless minority in Taiwanese society.

Needed Social and Legal Support
The TransAsia Sisters Association, Taiwan (TASAT) was established on 7 December 2003. However, its origin dates back to the “Foreign Brides Chinese Literacy Program” that was founded at Meinung, Kaohsiung in 1995. The literacy program was founded on the idea that learning Chinese empowers immigrant women to speak for themselves and to form their own organization to fight for their rights. TASAT has the objective of helping immigrant women break away from isolation and become an active participant in society. It adopted this motto: For living, For Being, For Human Rights.

Three of the immigrant staffs of TASAT do not only attend the advocacy training workshops, but also help organize press conferences. Organizing press conferences requires good coordination with other NGOs, knowledge of the issues, and ability to write press releases. In the beginning, the marriage immigrants are asked to speak only for one minute due to their limited Chinese language capacity. After one year, they begin to take turns in hosting the press conference. This not only shows the abilities gained from the previous trainings but also transforms them into enthusiastic advocates. One TASAT immigrant staff, Vuoch-Heang Lee, said, “Taking on advocacy work sounds very intimidating, but I experience the happiest and [also] the most painful learning journey in TASAT. I think I will keep going because the more I challenge myself, the more I grow.”

On the other hand, TASAT continuously organizes musicals, theatrical events or public speeches that involve immigrant women from different countries. It tries very hard to let the immigrant women know that they are by no means incompetent. The sudden change of environment and Chinese ethnocentrism deprive them of voice and talents. Through these activities, TASAT is able to attract a few marriage immigrants to join the trainings. Maybe they join TASAT because they like to perform in front of the audience. However, these activities are definitely making them learn more issues concerning their rights.

Policy and Law Reforms
TASAT has been actively linking with other organizations to advocate for policy and law reforms. With government plan to enact laws to regulate and restrict the new immigrants, TASAT and organizations working on women, workers and human rights issues formed the Alliance for Human Rights Legislation for Immigrants and Migrants (AHRLIM) on 12 December 2003.

In March 2005, AHRLIM sent its own proposals to Parliament on the amendment of the Immigration Act, which was passed in November 2007. The amendment has better preventive provisions on domestic violence and human trafficking victims, an absolute ban on profit-oriented marriage brokers, anti-discrimination provisions, etc.

In November 2008, after several years of efforts, the Ministry of Interior finally relaxed the financial proof of NT$ 5,000,000 (USD 166,666) for immigrant women as one of the naturalization application requirements.

In September 2011, the Council of Labor Affairs’ strict interpretation of the Employment Services Act was relaxed. Before the amendment to the Employment Services Act, widowed, divorced immigrant women or those who do not have children, could not work in Taiwan. Now foreign spouses who have permission to reside in Taiwan can apply directly to the Council for a work permit.

In December 2016, Article 4 of the Nationality Law was amended to recognize the right to apply for naturalization by divorced foreign spouses who are victims of domestic violence, widowed foreign spouses and those who support or have obligations to perform on behalf of Taiwanese children. However, the widowed spouses must remain in contact with their in-laws after becoming naturalized citizens. 

Concluding Notes
Not every immigrant has the chance to start a new life in another country smoothly. TASAT aims to help immigrants pursue that goal. In a whole new environment, they need to conquer serious hardships that Taiwanese citizens barely imagine or experience. These hardships involve, but not limited to, the legal system, cultural and language gaps, stereotypes, discrimination, and the stress resulting from the interplay of these hardships. Although TASAT’s current efforts to fully improve the well-being of the immigrants are limited, it still fights for it. 

Jun-Hong Chen is the Executive Secretary of TransAsia Sisters Association, Taiwan (TASAT).

For further information please contact: TransAsia Sisters Association, Taiwan (TASAT), 234, Zhongxiao Street, Yonghe District, New Taipei City; ph (886-2) 29210565, fax (886-2) 29217501; e-mail: tasat.taipei(a)gmail.com; http://tasat.org.tw/immigration_rights/all.

1 See Nationality Act, Ministry of Interior, Republic of China (Taiwan), www.moi.gov.tw/english/english_law/law_detail.aspx?sn=82.
2 See Immigration Act, National Immigration Agency, www.immigration.gov.tw/ct.asp?xItem=1096847&ctNode=30026&mp=2.

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