Taiwan officials have proposed a bill that relaxes immigration rules for skilled foreign workers, who are considered key to the rise of tech startups.

Taiwan Premier William Lai announced in mid-May his cabinet’s New Economic Migrant Act aimed at attracting foreign workers. It should help Taiwan meet demand for talent, he told a news conference. Parliament will review the act, with an eye toward passage, in its session that begins in September.

The Taiwan population is expected to decline from about 23 million to fewer than 20 million by 2035, Lai said, and the government needs a bill to help backfill a dearth of skilled workers left by that fall. Their arrivals in Taiwan would help spur economic growth, he said.

About 120,000 additional mid-level workers would ideally reach Taiwan, National Development Council Minister Chen Mei-ling said. Mid-level skilled workers cover technical assistants, drivers, machine operators and skilled assembly line workers.

“Taiwan has long opened its job market to professional talent as well as migrant workers in the manufacturing, construction, social welfare and home care sectors, but not to mid-level skilled workers,” Chen told the news conference.

Births in the first quarter of 2018 dropped several thousand from the same period of last year, Chen said. Taiwan’s population growth rate will begin to turn negative in 2025 if the trend continues, she said.

Draft immigration bill

Lai’s proposed bill includes measures to let more foreign investors as well as technical personnel and other professionals work in Taiwan. As of May, over 680,000 foreign workers were in Taiwan, according to government statistics.

According to a report by Taipei-based Central News Agency, officials say the bill also would let migrant skilled workers apply for permanent residency, naturalization, and visas for family members.

The bill spells out looser requirements for permanent residency, as well. Foreign talents who wish to apply for permanent residency are now required to stay in Taiwan for five consecutive years. The proposed bill shortens that period to three years for certain professionals.

The rules cover all nationalities except workers from mainland China. They do apply to people from Hong Kong and Macau. Mainland Chinese must follow the Regulations Governing the Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the People of the Mainland China Area, Chen said.

Under the current rules, foreigners can apply for permanent residency in Taiwan only if they work here for at least seven years and stay at least 183 days a year.

To apply for permanent residence in Taiwan under the draft bill, a worker in the social care sector must make at least NT$32,000 (US$1,070) per month, and an industrial sector worker must earn a monthly minimum of NT$41,393.

〔Original :meet@Tw〕