There are currently around 75 million international migrants living in Asia. Since its earliest days as a Dutch colony, Taiwan has served as a migrant-receiving society. Despite this enriched history, Taiwan’s government has been criticized for demonstrating little political will, until recently, for instituting immigration reform or supporting the integration of new migrants into Taiwanese society. Changing demographics such as increasingly large numbers of first and second generation Southeast Asian migrants and their children settling in Taiwan, however, have accelerated the need for timely comprehensive policy reforms as well as government-led integration efforts. Under President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) launch of the New Southbound Policy (新南向政策), the government has introduced various initiatives aimed at broadening traditionally restrictive immigration laws to attract greater numbers of migrants to settle in Taiwan, in addition to creating opportunities for further integration between the Taiwanese and migrant communities.
As part of the people-centered prong of the Tsai administration’s New Southbound Policy, Taiwan’s government has laid out a strategy for how it wishes to modify its public institutions via the education system and adjustments to the labor market to better integrate new migrants. For the integration process to be successful, it requires the cooperation of two parties: the immigrant group and the receiving society. The receiving society, in this case Taiwan, ultimately holds more power in determining the outcome of the integration process and how its institutions will adjust to the newcomers needs. These efforts include “provid[ing] high-quality educational opportunities in Taiwan and facilit[ing] two way cooperation to cultivate professional talent.” Also included are government-led initiatives to provide the children of new Southeast Asian immigrants with language skills and work experiences in Southeast Asia and familiarize the Taiwanese teachers and students with Southeast Asian languages and cultures. By doing so, this cultivates an environment of mutual respect and understanding as well as builds essential connections to Southeast Asia.
As of August 2017, Taiwan’s current foreign-born resident population was overwhelmingly comprised of immigrants from the Southeast Asian nations of Indonesia (232,145), Vietnam (189,500), the Philippines (145,425), Thailand (65,139), and Malaysia (14,531). Furthermore, approximately one in six children born in Taiwan are born to immigrant families and about 260,000 primary and secondary school students are children of new immigrants. Therefore, one avenue in particular where the government has chosen to focus its integration efforts is through the education system. To create opportunities for children of immigrants to better understand the cultures and languages of their homeland, as well as to establish opportunities for mutual understanding between migrants and native children, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education has announced that beginning in fall 2018, elementary and junior high schools throughout the country will begin offering courses in Southeast Asian languages. Through this initiative, students at the elementary level will have the option to choose a course in either a local language or a Southeast Asian language to meet their requirement and once students reach junior high, the language class becomes optional. If they choose to take a Southeast Asian language, they may choose from Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, Burmese, Khmer, Malay, and Tagalog, which compared to the numbers above, accurately represents the languages spoken by the largest migrant groups residing in Taiwan.
By adding these languages to the curriculum, the government is acknowledging the benefits that new immigrants and their children bring to Taiwan in terms of diversity and future opportunities for cooperation that transcend culture and language barriers. Furthermore, the addition of Southeast Asian languages to the curriculum along with government subsidized remedial Chinese language courses provides children of Southeast Asian descent with greater opportunities to catch up to their peers. When asked specifically about the addition of Vietnamese to the language curriculum, Au Quy Hi, Education Secretary at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Ho Chi Min City remarked “we hope the introduction of Vietnamese will help children of Vietnamese origin to better integrate into Taiwan’s education system and be on an equal footing with native children.”
School-aged immigrant children are not the only ones benefiting from this government led integration initiative. To meet the new nationwide demand for Southeast Asian language teachers in elementary and junior high schools, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education K-12 Education Administration began a certification program in July 2016 that allowed new immigrants with the appropriate skillset to earn accreditation to instruct compulsory and elective Southeast Asian language courses at local schools as teaching support personnel. Based on its currently enrolled K-12 student population, more teachers of Vietnamese and Indonesian languages are needed than other Southeast Asian languages, as 67 percent of the demand is for Vietnamese and 18 percent for Indonesian languages, respectively. According to Chang Ming-wen (張明文), director of Department of Teacher and Art Education, “ [the] teaching staff of new immigrants’ languages are mainly made up of ‘teaching support personnel’, who include new immigrant mothers in the community or existing teachers who have studied the languages and past [passed] certification examinations.” Through this unique opportunity, new migrants are able to work alongside native Taiwanese populations in a formal school setting, which allows for faster integration into Taiwan’s labor market.
Granting new immigrants the opportunity to work side-by-side with native Taiwanese teachers in the same capacity, also addresses a controversial concept of Taiwan’s migration and citizenship policy known as ‘population quality’ (人口素質). This idea is also referred to by some sociologists as the ‘cultural quality’ problem, which categorizes migrants as being of lower or higher quality depending on their home country. Under this system, those coming from Southeast Asia are considered undesirable citizens and the mixed children of Southeast Asian mothers are also regarded as belonging to the poor quality population. However, through increased engagement with Southeast Asia under the New Southbound Policy and government assisted integration efforts, these stereotypes are beginning to break down.
Although Taiwan is on the right track when it comes to integrating new migrants from Southeast Asia into Taiwanese society and meeting the goals laid out under the New Southbound Policy, the government still faces obstacles in how it selectively chooses to interact and engage with its domestic immigrant population. For example, Vietnamese immigrant, Ho Thanh Nhan (or Hu Ching-hsien, 胡清嫻), was named as the first new immigrant advisor by President Tsai to help set policies relevant to immigrant concerns almost one year ago, yet she has reportedly not had the opportunity to meet with the President or any other high level officials to express such concerns.
Ranking as a top concern among immigrant groups is the decline of intergenerational mother tongue transmission. Though the language policies outlined above seem to address this concern, a significant portion of the Taiwanese population does not entirely support language transmission to children of mixed Southeast Asian and Taiwanese descent. Furthermore, although the migrants support the introduction of the seven Southeast Asian languages into the K-12 curriculum, they fear the lack of qualified teachers will negatively impact the instruction. According to officials, this fear is well founded. Tsai Chih-ming (蔡志明), a Ministry of Education K-12 official, remarked, “teaching materials for Vietnamese and Indonesian languages have been prepared for many years and are therefore more ready than those for the other languages.” Additionally, there is concern among the immigrant community that the government will recruit teachers directly from those countries rather than recruit from their domestic immigrant talent pool. The inability of migrants to communicate with policy makers on issues directly affecting their own and their children’s livelihoods is troublesome and reveals the government’s true motivation behind introducing new languages to the curriculum, to increase future profits with Southeast Asian countries. It also suggests that perhaps there has been too much emphasis placed on the formalities of establishing policies and positions and not enough execution of those policies.
In all, integration processes by nature are not meant to facilitate change over a short period of time. As of this writing, the new language program has only been piloted in a handful of schools throughout the country and will not be fully introduced into the curriculum until the 2018 school year, therefore, only time will demonstrate the government’s success in pursuing Southeast Asian immigrant integration efforts. Although there are some indications that the government may be unilaterally pursuing such integration efforts without consulting the affected groups, there is still plenty of opportunity to open a dialogue with such groups in building a more accepting, more diverse, and more welcoming Taiwan for all.
Main Point: Under the New Southbound Policy, Taiwan’s government has increased its ability to facilitate Southeast Asian immigrant integration into Taiwanese society through its compulsory education system, but still has progress to make in demonstrating its commitment to such integration initiatives.