At a glance
Total Number of Migrants:
Foreign Professional Workers (as of June 2017): 33,506
Foreign Non-Professional Workers (as of June 2017): 653,804
Migrant Industrial Workers (Manufacturing & Construction): 410,000
Migrant Social Welfare Workers (Nursing, Domestic Workers): 243,804
Key Country of Origins (as of June 2017):
1. Indonesia: 252,997 (38.69%)
2. Vietnam: 195,698 (29.93%)
3. Philippines: 144,439 (22.09%)
4. Thailand: 60,669 (9.27%)
Key Employment Sectors:
1. Migrant Industrial Workers: primarily working in manufacturing and construction industries, with a minority working in agriculture, fishing, and forestry industries
2. Social Welfare workers: nursing for the elderly and sick, domestic workers
Types of Visas:
1. Visa for Foreign Labor: primarily for migrant industrial/social welfare workers (3 years per permit; maximum 12 years; 14 years for domestic caretakers if qualified)
2. Residency Visas (over 180 days)
3. Working Holidays (Youth Mobility) Visas
Minimum Wage :
- Industrial Workers: 21,009 NTD/month (654 USD/month, same as Taiwanese nationals)
- Social Welfare & Domestic Workers: 17,000 NTD/month (543 USD/month)
Maternity Protection for Migrant Women :
- Female foreign domestic workers cannot be dismissed due to pregnancy, as foreign industrial workers are protected by the - - Labour Standards Law of Taiwan
- Female migrant workers’ visas applications may be denied if they are found to be pregnant
National Labour Laws:
Labour Standard Law applies to migrant industrial workers, but not migrant domestic workers.
- Migrant Industrial Workers are mandatory beneficiaries of labour insurance, while migrant domestic workers’ participation is voluntary
- All migrant workers are required to participate in health insurance (insurance premiums are paid 60% by the employer, 30% by the worker, and 10% by the government). 
Foreign industrial workers are entitled to form and join unions.
Currently migrant workers are not entitled to permanent residency (maximum stay: 12 years, 14 years for social welfare workers).
Migrant workers’ children:
Migrant workers’ children do not enjoy citizenship, and this may deprive them of social welfare, medical care, and educational rights.
Ratification Status of Relevant Conventions
Taiwan (officially the Republic of China) lost it seat at the United Nations following United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758 made in 1971, and cannot be recognized as an official signatory to most international conventions. As such, Taiwan ratifies and implements the standards required by conventions through local legislation.
International Bill of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR): Enacted
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: Enacted
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW): Enacted
Convention on the Rights of the Child: Enacted 
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families: No national law status. 
International Labour Conventions:
The Republic of China was the founding member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), and has joined and ratified 37 labour conventions. Following ROC’s withdrawal from the United Nations, ILO de-recognized Taiwan’s member status in 1984. Nevertheless, the ILO conventions ROC had signed remained in effect through Taiwan’s Labour Standards Act.
The conventions in force include:
ILO 105 (Forced Labour, Art. 5 of Labour Standards Act amended 21 December 2016)
ILO 100 (Equal Remuneration, Art.25 of Labour Standards Act amended 21 December 2016)
ILO 95(Minimum Wage, Art. 28 of Labour Standards Act amended 21 December 2016)
ILO 1 (Maximum Working Hours, 8 hours a day, 48 hours a week, Art.30 of Labour Standards Act amended 21 December 2016)
ILO 59 (Child Labour, Art. 46 of Labour Standards Act amended 21 December 2016)
ILO 103 (Maternal Leave, Art.52 of Labour Standards Act amended 21 December 2016)
ILO87 (Freedom of Association), ILO98 (Collective bargaining): Yes, Labour Union Act amended June 2010
ILO111 (discrimination in employment and occupation): Yes, Act of Gender Equality in Employment, Article 5 of Employment Services Act amended 3 November 2016
Not in force:
ILO97 (Migration): no corresponding provision enacted
ILO143 (Migrant Worker): no corresponding provision enacted
ILO189 (Domestic Worker): no corresponding provision enacted
Overview of Migration
Under Taiwan’s Employment Service Act, foreign migrant workers are divided into two categories, namely specialized foreign workers (“white-collar” workers) and non-specialized foreign workers (“blue-collar” workers).  Blue-collar migrants constitute the grand majority of foreign workers in Taiwan (as of April 2016, there are 30,440 white-collar foreign workers compared to 595,695 blue-collar workers in Taiwan). Current laws and regulations in Taiwan treat the white-collar and blue-collar workers with unequal standards. The former practically enjoys equivalent, if not more, legal and institutional protection as Taiwanese nationals. For blue-collar workers, they lack similar levels of protection. For example, foreign domestic workers and nurses are not entitled to same level of minimum wage as Taiwanese nationals. Informal socioeconomic discrimination is common, despite the increased efforts by both the government and civil society to improve the migrants’ sociocultural welfare and working conditions.
Specialized Foreign Workers (“white-collar” workers)
From January 2004 onwards, Taiwan’s Ministry of Labour began to issue work permits to specialized foreign professionals. The main purpose of this scheme is to introduce specialized skills and knowledge from foreign professionals to enhance technological sophistication and competitiveness of domestic industries.  Currently, foreign workers in Taiwan may work as “specialized or technical workers”, professionals in “religious, artistic, and show business,” foreign language teachers, school teachers and business management professionals. According to census information recently published by the Ministry of Labour, “specialized or technical workers” make up the majority of specialized foreign workers, followed by foreign language teachers.  The most common nationality of foreign professionals is Japan, followed closely by the United States. 
To be deemed qualified to be a “specialized worker,” the foreign worker is required to obtain a bachelor’s degree with 2 years of work experience, or a master’s degree, or one-year experience in serving in a multinational company. For certain types of professions, certificates and licenses are required. The maximum length of work visas is 3 years, which can be extended for unlimited number of times.
More often referred to as “expatriates” than “foreign workers” in Taiwan, white-collar workers are entitled to full statutory protection by relevant laws such as the Labour Standards Act, statutory minimum wage, and the Employment Services Act. The minimum wage for specialized technical jobs is stipulated at 47,971 NTD.  Where labour disputes arise, foreign workers can lodge their complaints to local “Foreign Workers Consultation Service Center,” which provides bilingual consultation and legal services.
In general, white-collar workers receive more favourable treatment than blue-collar workers in Taiwanese labour regulations. First, there is no maximum limit of stay for white collar workers, but a current maximum limit of 12 years for blue-collar migrants. Second, white-collar workers are granted permanent residency, or even citizenship, and they are allowed to bring along their family members to live in Taiwan. But blue-collar workers are barred from obtaining residency or taking their family members with them. Third, white-collar workers can switch between employers freely without restriction, while blue collars are required to stick with the same employer within the timeframe of permitted stay.  The different legal status of these two types of workers reflects the varying attitudes of Taiwanese society towards migrants of different occupations, class and nationality in light of globalization.
Foreign Non-Professional Workers (“blue-collar” workers)
Taiwan began to import non-professional workers to supplement its increasingly expensive and aging labour workforce in 1989. The expanding demand for domestic caretakers and housemaids accelerated legislative reforms that removed the previously imposed restrictions on labour importation. By 2000s, foreign labourers and domestic workers have become an irreplaceable element in Taiwan’s low value-added industries and social welfare system.
Blue-collar foreign workers are divided into two major types: foreign workers in productive industries and foreign social welfare workers. The former type of workers are employed in construction, manufacturing, shipping and other fields that are collectively known as the “3k industries”, which involve dirty, dangerous, and labour-consuming work. The latter, on the other hand, forms an integral part of Taiwan’s civilian life and social welfare system, as they serve as caregivers for the elderly and the disabled, or as domestic housemaids who typically provide childcare and engage in other household chores.
As of June 2017, there are 401,573 industrial foreign workers in Taiwan, with the majority working in the manufacturing industry, while others are employed to do construction, shipping or fishing-related work. About 70% of workers in the industrial sector are male, and Vietnamese males alone amount to 30.9% of the entire industrial foreign sector, compared with Filipino male and female who take up 27.5% of the total amount of foreign industrial workers in Taiwan.
For social welfare and domestic workers, 77% of them are from Indonesia, 12.7% from the Philippines, and the majority of the rest are from Vietnam. The sector comprised overwhelmingly of females with only 0.7% being males, and the presence of such workers has helped to release middle class Taiwanese females from their traditional gender roles to enter into the job market.  There has been discussions of potential importation of workers from Myanmar.
Human rights and socioeconomic discrimination concerns relating to migrant blue collar workers have been constantly raised by international and domestic human rights groups. Relevant issues include high fees charged and abuse by third party agencies, labour exploitation, abuse by employers, and cultural discrimination. High profile cases include the 2005 Kaohsiung MRT foreign workers scandal, in which Thai workers employed by the government in construction work staged strikes to protest against poor working conditions and exploitation by agencies.
Critics and campaigners have pointed towards the government’s inaction and acquiescence towards glaring conditions faced by the migrant workers. The continued liberalization of labour imports was not met with corresponding degree of heightened labour rights protection towards migrant workers. Prominent concern groups such as Taiwan Labour Front and Taiwan International Workers’ Association (TIWA) have repeatedly criticized government policies by publishing annual reports, writing columns on mainstream media, campaigning, and organizing street protests.
(i) Minimum Wage
As stipulated in the Labour Standards Act, the current minimum wage for foreign industrial workers is 21,009 NTD (691.04 USD) per month, which is equivalent to that of Taiwanese nationals. However, domestic workers are not protected by the Labour Standards Act due to the “special nature” of their work. Furthermore, employers may deduct up to $4000 NTD from the wage in the name of “living and food expenses”.
In light of the above, the Taiwanese government is increasingly under pressure to offer migrant domestic workers better labour conditions. Campaigners particularly point towards the “true nature” of domestic workers’ labour, namely the unlimited work hours and lack of right to holidays. According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Labour, over half of Taiwan’s foreign domestic workers have never taken a day off during their three years’ stay.
In August 2015, after much negotiations and bargaining with the governments of labour exporting countries, the Taiwanese government raised the statutory minimum wage of foreign domestic workers to 17,840 NTD (551 USD). 
(ii) Non-transferability of employer
Under Taiwan’s Employment Services Act, a “quota rule” is imposed on employers of manufacturing industries. A percentage limit is imposed on the maximum amount of foreign industrial workers that the employer can employ among his employees. The percentage cap varies among different industries. Under this rule, foreign workers can only work for employers who have registered under the quota system and have spare quota. The system prevents foreign workers from changing employer during their stay. 
The rule, established for administrative convenience, in effect places foreign workers under complete control of their employers. Faced with the possibility of dismissal and deportation, foreign workers have little or no bargaining power against their employers in negotiations relating to labour conditions. The rule exemplifies the current discriminatory attitude of Taiwanese government towards migrant blue-collar workers, given that no such rule exists for foreign “professionals,” who can switch jobs as they wish and are welcomed to stay with their family.
(iii) Maximum Stay
The current limit of stay is three years per permit for migrant workers. The permit can be reapplied for up to 12 years. As an exception to the general rule, domestic migrant workers and caretakers are entitled to a maximum stay of 14 years.
(i) Agency Fees
Similar to other East Asian migrant workers, blue-collar migrants in Taiwan usually establish their first contact with their Taiwanese employers through labour agencies. The agencies monopolize the business of bridging between migrant workers and potential employers, and profit from charging hefty agency fees from the migrant workers. Although there is a legal limit on maximum agency fee ($4000 USD for 3 year contract of industrial work, $3300 USD for 3 year contract of caretaker work), it is often circumvented by charging additional unreported fees.  The fees, which may amount to $5000-7000 USD, is equivalent to the foreign worker’s salary for one year, making their work akin to forced labour. The costly fees also render the protection by statutory minimum wage nominal, as migrant workers use most of their wages are to pay the debts they incurred.
Labour inspections are often ineffective since migrants are often threatened or coerced to cover up for their agencies to prevent from being dismissed or deported. The heavy debt burden also makes migrants reluctant to complain about working conditions. Failure to repay the debt creates incentives for migrant workers to run away and work illegally, which deprives them of legal and social welfare protection.
There has been proposals of “country-to-country direct employment” schemes that aim to connect the migrant workers with employers without intervention by agencies. The Ministry of Labour sets up the “Direct Hiring Service Center” in 2007 to encourage direct employment of migrants. However, the procedures of the system has been proved to be too complicated and inconvenient, which is why employers still prefer to hire migrants through agencies.
(ii) Socio-cultural discrimination
Apart from harsh working conditions and the burden of agency fees, migrant workers also face discrimination on the basis of race, background, and gender, in their struggle to adapt in the Taiwanese society. A notorious incident in 2010 involves an employer who forces her Muslim Indonesian workers to consume pork.  Another major controversy occurs when authorities attempted to remove migrant workers from their favorite space to stay during day offs or religious festivals such as the Ramadan. 
(iii) Labour Standards Act does not apply to migrant domestic workers
The current Labour Standards Act, which is the prime Taiwanese law for labour conditions, does not apply to migrant domestic workers. This creates a potential loophole for employers to infringe labour rights of the domestic workers. Apart from being subject to a lower statutory minimum wage, migrant domestic workers suffer from practically unlimited working hours. Moreover, employers are not required to pay for labour insurance. Due to the privacy of domestic workers’ working environment, it is difficult for labour inspections to regulate employers’ behaviour. 
Any contractual or labour right disputes can be settled in “Foreign Workers Consultation and Service Centers”, which are established by the Ministry of Labour across 23 Taiwanese counties and cities. Services are available in English, Tagalog, Bahasa Indonesia, Thai, and Vietnamese. In case of employer abuse or illegal dismissal, local authorities can help to resettle the workers and recover lost wages. A 24-hour hotline is available for migrant workers when in need. 
Many Taiwanese labour organizations, such as Taiwan International Worker’s Association (TIWA), and political parties have been actively campaigning to protect migrant workers’ welfare and rights. Local labour unions have also been supportive of migrant workers’ rights, as they hold the belief that deterioration of migrants’ labour conditions will affect local employability.
Recent attempts by major industries to introduce discriminatory minimum wage among migrant industrial workers have been rejected due to strong pressure from the civil society and Taiwanese government’s commitments to international labour conventions.
Foreigners in Taiwan, National Immigration Agency:
Ministry of Labor
Taiwan International Worker’s Association
Taiwan Labour Front:
 Ministry of Labour (June 2017).” Number of Foreign Professional Workers according to Nationality”. Available at https://statdb.mol.gov.tw/statis/jspProxy.aspx?sys=220&ym=10601&ymt=10606&kind=21&type=1&funid=q13045&cycle=41&outmode=0&&compmode=0&outkind=11&fldspc=0,35,&rdm=lKle7ipb
(Accessed 25 July 2017).
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Ministry of Labour (June 2017). “Number of foreign social welfare and industrial workers according to sectors, nationality, and gender”. Available at http://statdb.mol.gov.tw/statis/jspProxy.aspx?sys=220&ym=10606&ymt=10606&kind=21&type=1&funid=q13014&cycle=41&outmode=0&&compmode=0&outkind=1&fldspc=0,8,&codlst0=111&rdm=njtllLtr (Accessed 25 July 2017)
 See n2, “Number of foreign social welfare and industrial workers according to sectors,” (Accessed 19 June 2016).
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 See n20.
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 Ma Tsai-Chuan. “The Embeddedness of Taiwan’s Labor,” p. 97-98.
 Ibid, p. 99-101.
 Ministry of Labor. (August 17, 2015). Reasonable Minimum Wage Raise for Domestic Foreign Workers, Will be Settled by the end of August. Available at http://www.mol.gov.tw/announcement/2099/23544/ (accessed June 19 2016)
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 Son, Yu Liam. (2013). “Exploitation in Mobilizing,” p.7. Available at http://www.taiwanhrj.org/contents/22 (accessed 19 June 2016).
 Taiwan International Workers’ Association. (March 15 2016). The Ghost Ship, the Exotic Flavor, and the Despised Space for Foreign Workers. Available at http://talk.ltn.com.tw/article/breakingnews/1625044 (accessed June 19 2016).
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