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May 28, 2017

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Taiwan needs to embrace foreign students, professionals

Almost nine in 10 foreign students would be willing to work or recommend study in Taiwan to fellow students according to recent research by the Foundation for International Cooperation in Higher Education of Taiwan (FICHET, 財團法人高等教育國際合作基金會). The survey, which collected information from a total of 1,602 participants, also suggested that only 5.88 percent of them would recommend other people to learn Mandarin in mainland China, stressing that traditional Chinese characters are better than simplified ones.

To the same extent, we also believe that more foreign students and professionals would be willing to further contribute to Taiwan's economy, if only they'd be allowed to. After all, facilitating foreigners to develop their careers here would not only stimulate the economy; it would also inspire locals to better themselves. But what ultimately would lead them to their decision of trying for the "Taiwanese dream," so to speak, is not so simple. Those foreigners would have to feel that their abilities are more valued here than abroad. That is usually not the case. It is our opinion that to attract foreign professionals to work here, for longer than a short-term contract, would require true changes in the local corporate culture, especially regarding overtime, paid holidays, retirement benefits and management of human resources.

Do you know that many people spend very long hours in offices even though they are actually doing no productive work at all, often playing with their cellphone if they can get away with it. The managers are also accused of very rarely praising good work and failing to motivate, leading the more creative employees to change jobs frequently. It is also common here to push workers paid salary to work overtime at no cost, leading to the exploitation of junior staff. Very few people also enjoy a break in summertime, a holiday that would allow them to rest, reflect and return to work invigorated and therefore become more productive.

At the same, we believe that authorities are making it more difficult for foreign professionals to come to Taiwan instead of facilitating it in order to protect the local job market. This is not just regrettable; it is also a reason why Taiwan is losing many of its brightest to other countries. In the absence of competition, the local work force is incrementally becoming viewed as expendable, and thus exploited. While prospective workers from Taiwan are venturing out of the island, hoping to find places that value their skills, foreign professionals are purposely kept away from managerial positions in most office jobs. It is thereby a vicious cycle that we have been circling in, a purgatory that only few realize and try to escape.

In recent years, Taiwan has been afraid of competition from the foreign professionals, whereas nearby cities in other Asian countries or regions like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Seoul, to name just a few, have instead welcomed them with open arms. Too many still fail to realize how foreign workers are actually a net positive for the economy, instead of the common prejudice that deems them to be simply job takers. It is about time to gather that fear of competition from abroad and transform it into an aspiration to better ourselves. In this eventuality, we hope that the Ministry of Labor will follow the lead of the Tourism Bureau and launch a YouTube campaign to attract foreign professionals to Taiwan. Instead of "Anytime for Taiwan — Film Taiwan, Action!" the new campaign could be called "Work Anytime in Taiwan!" — a call on foreigners from around the world to share their work experiences through video stories. Something more productive than the video of Next Media Animation's editor, Marina Schifrin, who announced that she wanted to leave the Taiwanese company because of her working conditions which became viral in October last year.

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