Foreign Professionals Are Leaving Taiwan. Just Don’t Accuse Them of Fleeing Covid-19.

Foreign Professionals Are Leaving Taiwan. Just Don’t Accuse Them of Fleeing Covid-19.
Photo Credit: CNA

What you need to know

Some gold card holders are leaving Taiwan to avoid restrictions on life and work from Covid-19. Others are returning home for vaccination.

Taiwan has seen an influx of new residents seeking to enjoy a life without fear of Covid-19 over the last year. But now, many appear to be leaving after the government tightened restrictions to contain the first major outbreak of the virus. Huge crowds were seen at the terminals of Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan’s largest and busiest airport.

Since the pandemic began, many high-skilled workers and entrepreneurs have been relocating to Taiwan under the Employment Gold Card program. Foreign professionals who had already been in Taiwan have extended their stay by applying to the program. Launched in early 2018, the program has only gained traction last year. As of May, more than 2,200 of 2,757 gold cards have been issued since the beginning of 2019.

Following the recent outbreak of Covid-19 in Taiwan, some gold card holders have also left or are planning to do so to avoid restrictions on life and work. An official at the National Development Council told The News Lens many are returning home, the United States in particular, for vaccination as the government struggled to procure vaccines. 

The NDC, which oversees the program, made no figures available on the number of gold card holders leaving. But in the community, there have been active and continuous discussions on how to get tested for the virus before leaving Taiwan, according to several members.

In Taiwan, a Level 3 alert for the pandemic has been in place nationwide since May 19, four days after the government recorded three digit cases of daily Covid-19 infections for the first time. Under the alert, a series of new measures stop short of a complete lockdown at Level 4, but there are strict restrictions on both outdoor and indoor gatherings. Schools, kindergartens, and non-essential businesses have been ordered to close to prevent unnecessary assemblies.

陳時中指揮中心疫情記者會
Photo Credit: Central Epidemic Command Center
Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung

Some gold card holders are concerned about being unable to leave if the government imposes a full lockdown. A long wait for Covid-19 test results could also delay their departure. Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung has ruled out the possibility for a Level 4 alert several times, but a lack of certainty around how it will affect foreign residents has precipitated a migration.

Restrictions

Jennifer, a tech worker who had been working in Taiwan for a U.S. company, said she and her husband had to take care of their two children on their own after kindergartens were closed after the outbreak. (She has requested to be referred to under a pseudonym.)

“When Level 3 started in Taiwan, we decided if we don’t have childcare in Taiwan, it doesn’t make sense to stay,” she said. “I work remotely and having kids at home just makes it not possible to work.”

Jennifer relocated from Seattle to Taipei with her family of four last December under the gold card program after a Covid-19 shutdown left the couple juggling children and work. “We ended up hiring a nanny,” she said. “But in Taipei, I don’t know how realistic it is to hire someone who is within walking distance of our apartment, who is willing to isolate to the same degree that we are, and who can nanny for us in the style of parenting we prefer.”

“In the States, we are staying with my husband’s parents in California and they’re both vaccinated. We can get much more help with taking care of the kids,” she said.

She considers their departure timely. Despite expecting a two week quarantine when they return to Taiwan, she said it is not worse than having to work from home with kids around.

Jonathan Gropper, an American entrepreneur holding the gold card, has also recently left for Florida after staying in Taiwan for more than a year and a half. He was looking to set up the Taiwanese American Mental Health institute, which provides bilingual mental health sessions in Taiwan, when the coronavirus began spreading in communities.

“We had to pause our office search and it threw our clinician roster into disarray because patients can’t see their therapist in person,” he said. “Online therapy is not too popular with Asian cultures.”

As Taiwan keeps people at home and shuts down some businesses in response to the outbreak, many U.S. states, which have been through worse, are slowly reopening their economies. In Miami, Gropper has been running several e-commerce platforms and an alcohol delivery service in the metro area.

Despite the comfort at home, he said he looks forward to returning to Taiwan as soon as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. “Hopefully, with the way things are, containment will not take too long, and I will be able to return within a month or so and continue my work there,” he said.

Vaccination

Taiwan has secured only around two million vaccine doses for its 24 million people. The recent two batches, including 150,000 Moderna doses and 1.2 million AstraZeneca doses donated by the Japanese government, will be administered soon after checks by the Food and Drugs Administration.

Many American gold carders, concerned amid the spread of Covid-19 in Taiwan, are heading to the U.S. for vaccination. Jesi Chan, a lawyer and an entrepreneur from Hong Kong, said she decided to leave for California this week to receive vaccination after staying home for weeks in Taiwan under Level 3 alert.

According to government statistics from May, 39%, or more than a thousand, gold card holders are from the U.S. Hong Kongers account for 14%, making them the second largest group of gold card holders.

Taiwan had a self-pay vaccination program available for all, including foreign residents, but since the outbreak, most vaccine doses have been reserved for frontline workers at hospitals. Last week, the government responded to the recent clusters in long-term care centers by starting to vaccinate facility workers and elderly people above 75.

疫情緊繃 假日打疫苗(2)
Photo Credit: CNA
People wearing masks line up for vaccination in Taipei, Taiwan, June 6, 2021.

Joe Russell, a tech entrepreneur based in San Francisco, said he flew to the U.S. for work and vaccination before the surge in infections in Taiwan. He has postponed the plan to return until the restrictions are lifted. “The reopening [in California] will make life here more comfortable in comparison to the current restrictions in Taiwan,” he added.

Chan also said she plans to return to Taiwan once the pandemic is under control. She came to Taiwan last September to start TalentX, an international talent platform that matches Taiwanese software developers with foreign companies. As a founder, she feels “optimistic” about the growth of Taiwan’s tech sector.

“A lot of my friends have left or [are] leaving,” Chan told The News Lens. “But [it] sounds like the majority of them are going to return.”

Staying put

While a group of gold card holders are leaving for various reasons, some have been hunkering down. Nicole Young, who works for Taiwan-based startup Rolo as the head of marketing, believes that staying outweighs leaving. “I’m invested in the community here and consider Taiwan home,” she added. 

She said Taiwan’s recent caseloads have still been lower than those in other parts of the world, including in the U.S. The country records a daily caseload of three to five hundred over the past two weeks.

“I have faith in the Taiwanese government and community that we’ll be able to move past this recent spike,” Young said.

READ NEXT: Foreign Entrepreneurs Are Coming To Taiwan. Will They Stay After Covid-19? 

TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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