We are familiar with stories of travel restrictions that governments around the world have imposed in order to protect their countries. People have been unable to see their families or travel for work. In many ways, my story is not unique. In fact, I’m extraordinarily fortunate to have been in Taiwan for more than a year: despite the recent outbreak, the situation here is still relatively safe. But travel restrictions also mean that if I leave, I can’t return to Taiwan any time soon. While the cautionary nature of Taiwans approach to granting visas is praiseworthy, it can turn a blind eye to situational, human ethics and doesn’t appear to be rational in every regard. After all, Taiwanese citizens can travel to the United States or Europe to get vaccinated and then can return; foreign nationals cannot.

As a German citizen studying for a Ph.D. degree in the U.S., I am no stranger to strict formalities related to visa applications. In comparison, the experience of entering Taiwan on visa-exempt status in the past for research was unusually easy. But now this status deprives me of the ability to conduct research with a sense of security.

I entered Taiwan on a visa-exempt basis in February 2020, just before the borders closed. I am currently a visiting scholar at Academia Sinica until next year. This position is not paid for, therefore I am not eligible to apply for a work visa, which can be applied for within Taiwan. Because of the pandemic, I have and continue to enjoy the generous handling of people in my situation by the Taiwanese authorities who extend my stay in Taiwan every thirty days. At this point, I have stayed over 500 days in Taiwan. However, my legal situation continues to be precarious since the National Immigration Authority only gives thirty-day extensions every thirty days. I am not allowed to apply for a resident visa in Taiwan but need to apply from abroad. However, even if I now apply from abroad, I will not be able to come back to Taiwan because foreigners without an Alien Resident Card (ARC) are not allowed to enter Taiwan.

Life without a visa is full of obstacles minor and major. In order to go to the supermarket on weekends, for example, a passport or ARC is now required: even numbers can go on Saturdays, and uneven numbers on Sundays. But German passport numbers don’t consist of numbers but mainly of letters. On a number of occasions, I have been unable to purchase groceries. A minor indignity, perhaps.

More seriously, it is not clear at all if and how foreign nationals without an ARC will be able to register for vaccinations. And what happens in the case of an emergency? Last year, my grandmother died. I was not able to go back home and attend her funeral because otherwise, I would not have been able to come back to Taiwan. If anything were to happen to my parents in Germany and I leave Taiwan, I cannot come back.

But at this point, my life’s center and research are based here, in Taiwan. For example, in the last four months I was a visiting scholar at the Center for Chinese Studies at the National Central Library (NCL). In mid-June, I gave a paper there. I also received a scholarship from the NCL. I am affiliated with Academia Sinica and, during the next academic year, will receive a doctoral grant from a Taiwanese research institution. Notwithstanding, my repeated attempts to apply for a visa at the Bureau of Consular Affairs have been unsuccessful. The response I receive is Kafkaesque: “You can apply for a visa abroad, but then you still cannot come back to Taiwan because we don’t allow those without an ARC to come back.” I wonder: is there really a difference if I apply for a visa in Frankfurt or in Taipei? Despite living through an exceptional situation, the authorities keep handling problems with sets of solutions crafted for normalcy.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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