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Taiwan's evolving foreign talent strategy

The ECCT's Better Living and HR committees jointly hosted a lunch with guest speaker Shih Keh-her, Deputy Minister of the National Development Council (國家發展委員會 施克和副主任委員). The deputy minister gave a presentation titled "International talent hub in Taiwan - Strategy and implementation" after which he engaged in a Q&A session hosted by Tim Berge, Co-chair of the Better Living committee.

Taiwan's working population (those aged from 15-64) peaked at 17.37 million in 2016 and has been declining every year since. In 2023, it had dropped to 16.33 million and, based on the current trajectory, by 2070, the population aged from 15-64 will fall to just 7.76 million, of which 49% of people will be middle-aged and elderly (from 45-64 years of age). Even based on optimistic scenarios that the labour force participation rate will increase from below 60% currently to 60.3% by 2030 and the current number of foreign workers in Taiwan remains at over 750,000, Taiwan would have a workforce of 12.63 million, which would still be about 400,000 workers short of what is expected to be needed at the time.

Based on projected future estimates, the greatest increase in workforce demand in the future will be in the manufacturing, healthcare, and social services industries, which will drive significant growth for workers in fields such as medical care and scientific engineering.

The government is fully aware of the current and projected shortages of both blue and white collar workers. Policies to try to boost Taiwan's own declining birth rate, even if they are successful, can only go so far. The rest of the labour shortfall will have to come from abroad. That is why the government, under the Tsai administration, has already introduced a number of policies to attract and retain foreign talent and labourers.

Revisions to attract foreign professionals, particularly the Employment Gold Card scheme, have helped to attract talent in a number of sectors. The government has also relaxed policies targeting skilled foreign labourers and enacted a long-term retention plan for migrant workers. Last year, the government established the Talent Taiwan Center and the Long-term Retention of Migrant Workers Service Center, aimed at helping employers to smooth the process of retaining both white collar talent and skilled blue collar workers (or so-called "mid-level professionals").

Thanks to the new policies, the number of foreign professionals in Taiwan has increased from around 43,074 in 2020 to 69,509 in 2023, of which 13,339 were so-called "foreign specialist professionals". As of the end of March 2024, 9,664 Employment Gold Cards have been issued, 27% of which were issued to US nationals and about 21% to Europeans. In terms of sectors, economic professionals accounted for just under half of gold cards issued and tech experts around 19% and education experts around 13%.

The government is also boosting cooperation with industry and educational institutions to develop and retain talent. Among other initiatives, the new International Industrial Talents Education Special Program recruits from abroad and provides government-funded scholarships for enterprises. The newly established International Foundation Program offers grants to establish "International Foundation Programs" and provides a one-year Mandarin prerequisite course. New Southbound industry-academia collaboration programmes recruit foreign students from New Southbound countries (from the Asia Pacific region) and host special customized programmes. The government has also relaxed restrictions to allow graduating foreign students to work in Taiwan after graduating. This has led to a large increase in the proportion of foreign students choosing to stay in Taiwan after graduation. According to statistics presented by Shih, of the more than 12,000 foreign students studying in Taiwan in 2023, 48% of them decided to remain in Taiwan after graduation.

To retain experienced and skilled foreign labourers the Long-term Retention Program for Migrant Workers was enacted in April 2024. Previously migrant workers were not permitted to stay in Taiwan longer than 12 years while caregivers were allowed to stay for a maximum of 14 years. Under the new legislation, intermediate skilled workers (which covers the manufacturing, construction, agriculture, meat packing, sea fishing and nursing sectors), with six consecutive years (or a total of 11.5 years) of working in Taiwan are now eligible to apply for permanent residency. As of the end of February 2024, over 25,000 workers had been approved under the programme, 60% of which were engaged in social welfare (15,000 caregivers) and 40% in industry (skilled workers). According to statistics provided by Shih, the total number of migrant workers hit a record of 753,430 in 2023, of which 519,125 worked in industry and 234,305 in social welfare.

The future focus of the International Talent Taiwan Office will be to extend services from 9,000+ Gold Card holders to all foreign professionals and their dependents and offer comprehensive services through online/offline and dedicated one-stop agents to assist with obtaining a visa, living in Taiwan, and finding a job. The office also offers assistance with administrative procedures for entry into Taiwan (like work permits, visas and pet quarantines), advice on daily life (such as housing, banking, taxes, children's education), legal and tax consultations. According to Shih, the office has assisted enterprises such as TSMC, ASML, GE, Google, NVIDIA, and Micron with hiring international talent. He noted that while there were specific industry categories for applications for Employment Gold Cards, companies could also make applications for industries not included on the list.

In the Q&A session Shih said that colleagues from the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Education have KPIs regarding attracting and retaining foreign talent and meet regularly to review and refine their strategies. NDC colleagues at the meeting also said that they welcomed proposals from the ECCT on future amendments to legislation and regulations that would make Taiwan more friendly to foreign talent.