What Taiwan’s Intermediate Skilled Manpower Classification Means

What Taiwan’s Intermediate Skilled Manpower Classification Means

What you need to know

Taiwan’s new “intermediate skilled manpower” classification has potential to benefit migrant workers and create a more diverse society in the long term. But there is a risk of developing a permanent underclass unable to fully participate in the economic, social, and cultural mainstream of Taiwanese life.

In late April, Taiwan entered a new era for immigration as employers became able to apply to reclassify experienced migrant workers as “intermediate skilled manpower.” A migrant worker needs at least six years of experience in Taiwan to be eligible for reclassification. There are also salary and skills requirements that must be met. In addition to migrant workers, international students who earn an associate degree can also be reclassified as intermediate skilled manpower. An intermediate skilled manpower work permit is valid for three years and can be extended indefinitely for three years each time.

According to media reports, some 200,000 migrant workers meet the six-year experience requirement. However, as of the end of July, only about 218 applications had been filed with just 31 approvals. My focus here though is on giving an overview of the nature of the program while reserving discussion of what problems exist in practice for another day. 

Migrant workers in Taiwan are divided into two classes: migrant workers who work in production and migrant workers who provide caregiving and other domestic services. Most migrant workers working in production are eligible for reclassification as intermediate skilled manpower. For example, migrant workers in manufacturing and construction are eligible, while workers in slaughterhouses are not. Only some migrant workers in agriculture are eligible.

Caregivers are eligible for reclassification regardless of whether they work in a home or at an institution. Notably, Taiwan’s 1,400 or so domestic helpers — a category of worker distinct from caregivers — are not eligible for reclassification.

Salary and skills requirements

Salary: A migrant worker in production generally needs to earn a monthly average wage of at least NT$33,000 to be eligible. These workers are also eligible if they earn total annual wages of at least NT$500,000. International students with associate degrees must have a starting salary of at least NT$30,000. To receive an extension, the foreign associate degree holder must earn at least NT$33,000. Caregivers in institutions must earn at least NT$29,000 while caregivers who work in their employer’s home must earn a minimum total monthly salary of NT$24,000.

Skills: Migrant workers also must generally meet certain technical skill requirements to be reclassified as intermediate skilled manpower. A migrant worker in production must obtain a designated technical certificate, complete 80 hours of approved vocational training courses at trade schools, or demonstrate skills to the satisfaction of the industry regulator. A migrant worker in production is exempt from the technical skills requirement if the worker is paid an average wage of at least NT$35,000.

A caregiver must be certified in a Taiwanese national language and complete 20 hours of training courses.

Quotas

There are two quotas intended to protect Taiwanese workers. An employer’s intermediate skilled workers are limited to no more than 25% of an employer’s approved migrant workforce. Second, the total number of migrant workers, intermediate skilled manpower and foreign professionals cannot exceed 50% of an employer’s employees.

After reclassification as intermediate skilled manpower, a worker becomes eligible for permanent residence after five additional years of residence in Taiwan based on a work permit for intermediate skilled work. To be granted permanent residence, the worker must currently earn at least NT$50,500 per month or obtain “Class B Professional and Technical Skills Certification” (乙級技術士證). The minimum salary of NT$50,500 is exactly twice the minimum wage, so this figure will increase in the future. For many workers, obtaining a Class B Skills Certification may be a more realistic path to permanent residence.

Policy aims

The Taiwanese government has created this new class of foreign worker to address four immediate issues. First, Taiwan is facing a labor shortage — 131,000 job openings for skilled workers went unfilled in 2020. Second, neighboring countries such as Japan and Singapore are aggressively recruiting skilled workers from overseas. Third, Taiwan is failing to retain experienced migrant workers. Migrant workers with at least six years of experience represent 33% of all migrant workers. Migrant workers with at least nine years of experience are just 11% of the migrant workforce. Fourth, Taiwan is training skilled workers in its associate degree programs as technical and vocational schools but has no pathway for graduates of these programs to stay in Taiwan and work.

Challenges

While the Ministry of Labor has quickly rolled out a multilingual website for the intermediate skilled manpower program, crucial details such as the nature of the language certification or the technical skills requirements are incomplete or unclear except in Chinese. Migrant workers will have to rely on their employers or brokers to meet the qualifications for reclassification. Moreover, the English translations on the Ministry’s website are mechanical and of poor quality. A more serious issue is that intermediate skilled workers can sponsor family members for dependent residence in Taiwan only if the intermediate skilled worker has an average monthly wage of NT$53,000. Since most intermediate skilled workers will not meet this requirement, in practice family reunion may not occur until the worker has been in Taiwan for 11 years and received permanent residence. In addition, the dependent family member of a permanent resident skilled worker will not be able to work and thus will find it difficult to meet the financial requirements for permanent residence unless they themselves become intermediate skilled workers or foreign professionals by earning an associate or a four-year degree in Taiwan.

Despite these challenges, the Ministry of Labor deserves credit for proactively liberalizing language requirements and providing incentives to employers to encourage them to let migrant workers take training courses that can lead to reclassification and permanent residence. The Ministry should work with the Ministry of Education and other concerned agencies to train NGO personnel as vocational counselors for migrant workers and also to prepare Taiwan’s education system for the children and spouses of migrant workers who will not speak Mandarin or be literate in Chinese. The intermediate skilled manpower program is an enormously complex undertaking with many implications for the nature of Taiwanese society in the future. Handled correctly, Taiwan will acquire the skilled workers it needs in the short term and a more diverse society in the long term. Handled incorrectly, Taiwan risks developing a permanent underclass of foreign migrants unable to fully participate in the economic, social, and cultural mainstream of Taiwanese life.


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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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