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September 22, 2017

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Make 'Taiwan Dream' come true

Since childhood I have been interested in Asia. I was fascinated by the culture, the people, the vegetation, the animals, tropical fruits — just about everything. Even today, after more than 15 years of living here, palm trees and rice fields up and down the road still elicit a sense of wonder.

My wife felt similarly and when the opportunity presented itself to work for a software company in Taipei we took the plunge and relocated to Taiwan. In 1998 we arrived at Taipei International Airport together with two children, our daughter Krystyna, then 6 years old, and our son Alexander, then 3. I received an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) together with my work permit. My wife and children automatically received their own ARCs, dependent on mine. This allowed the entire family to stay and grow in Taiwan.

Fast forward 15 years to 2013. Krystyna just turned 22, Alexander is 19 and there are two more of us — Andi, 15 and Sami, 13 — both born in Taiwan. All of them attended local schools. They fluently speak Mandarin, English and German and consider Taiwan their home. Andi, whenever he was called a foreigner, would tell people that he's Taiwanese ("我是台灣人"). And he meant it.

In 2006 I received my Alien Permanent Resident Certificate (APRC) after eight years of uninterrupted employment in the IT sector. However, today we face a problem: once children turn 20 they are no longer considered dependents and thus are not eligible to receive an ARC based on the ARC or APRC of their parents. That essentially means saying goodbye to Taiwan.

The only reason my daughter is still with us is because she studies at a Taipei university (Taiwan National University School of Arts.) That window, however, will close in a year when she graduates. Essentially the same applies to Alexander, who currently studies mathematics. Andi and Sami have a few more years to go until they face the same situation.

This is by far not a unique case. Many foreigners who came here years ago and stayed long enough to apply for permanent residency rights today have families and children. Many of the "children" who came here as minors or were born in Taiwan have reached the age of 20 and are no longer allowed to stay. Some of them extend their legal stay by visa runs. Others have left Taiwan and sometimes face difficulties because they have few, if any, connections in their official home countries. They love and identify with Taiwan, and speak the language fluently, but in many cases have no way to legally stay in the country. Quite a few families have been separated in this way.

Of course, parents don't expect their children to stay with them forever. However, the fact that their only option is to leave the country once they are out of school is a hardship that often goes unnoticed, though it's probably just an unintended result of a situation that outgrew the legal regulations.

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