Taiwan has spent the last decade reforming its immigration laws. After the next round of reforms expected this fall, most of the problems facing foreign nationals will be resolved.

The Tsai administration’s next step should be amending the Nationality Act to expand access to dual nationality.

The Nationality Act currently requires most naturalized citizens to renounce their original citizenship. There are three exceptions: those who cannot renounce due to the laws of their home country, those who have made extraordinary contributions to Taiwan, or those who are recognized by the Taiwanese government as highly skilled senior professionals.

While the number of those who have been able to show that the laws of their home country do not permit renunciation of citizenship is unknown, 73 foreign nationals had become dual citizens based on extraordinary contributions to Taiwan by the end of April 2020. Another 141 senior foreign professionals, those with long, distinguished careers and strong connections to Taiwan have obtained dual citizenship.

But for the vast majority of Taiwan’s 30,000 or so foreign professionals and more than 19,000 permanent residents, citizenship is effectively out of reach unless they renounce their original citizenship.

Taiwan is certainly not the only country in the world that has a single nationality policy. But it is one of very few that does not require its own citizens to renounce their nationality if they acquire a second nationality. As a result, Taiwan has hundreds of thousands if not millions of dual national citizens who contribute to Taiwan in myriad ways.

This double standard is bitterly resented by many long-term foreign residents. Although permanent residence allows foreign nationals to live and work in Taiwan indefinitely, it can be revoked or lost. Many have Taiwanese spouses and children. It also does not allow permanent residents any say in local politics. Non-citizens cannot purchase certain kinds of land, and the lack of household registration creates minor inconveniences in daily life.

While attractive, permanent residence is a decidedly second-class status when compared to citizenship. Permanent residents have been reminded of this second-class status repeatedly during the pandemic by the government’s either treating them differently from citizens or excluding them from various stimulus or relief programs unless married to a Taiwanese citizen.

Objections to increased access to dual nationality can be easily raised. Taiwan is a small, crowded place. A large, sudden increase in the number of dual nationals could endanger national security by creating a class of citizens with doubtful loyalty to Taiwan. Large numbers of new citizens would also have an unknown fiscal impact on social welfare programs.

These are objections that should be carefully considered. Nonetheless, one obvious solution would be to expand dual nationality incrementally by allowing permanent residents to become eligible for dual nationality after a specified number of years of permanent residence.

Taiwan currently has just over 19,400 permanent residents, most of whom became permanent residents only in the last seven years. If permanent residents could become dual nationals after, for example, five years of permanent residence, only about 10,000 or so would be eligible at first and perhaps 2-3,000 per year thereafter. These numbers would also be limited by the language and citizenship requirements that almost all naturalizing foreigners must meet.

Taiwan’s citizen population is currently declining by around 4,000 per month. It is difficult to see how this limited number of naturalized dual nationals would adversely impact Taiwanese society.

Another reason to consider expanding dual nationality is that the number of naturalizing citizens has decreased rapidly in recent years. In 2008, a record 13,230 foreign nationals naturalized. In 2019, just 3,438 did so. The vast majority of these have been female marriage migrants from Southeast Asian countries, particularly Vietnam. Allowing permanent residents to become dual nationals would diversify Taiwan’s immigrant pool and balance gender disparities. Moreover, it would permit marriage migrants from Southeast Asian countries to retain their original citizenship, thereby strengthening their ties to their countries of origin.

Ultimately, the decision to permit dual nationality comes down to whether Taiwan is an ethnic national state like Japan or a country based on shared values like the United States or France.

Taiwan’s ethnic diversity and deepening commitment to democratic and pluralistic values are an uneasy fit with its nationality laws, which are based on an outdated model of the state as a community of shared blood, language, and culture. Nonetheless, that model may well persist unless Taiwan’s international community begins to organize and make its wishes known to the Taiwanese public directly. Otherwise, the cautious civil servants who have shaped immigration policy to date will continue to make incremental adjustments while ignoring this fundamental issue.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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