Dealing with a misguided MOFA

By Hsia Hsiao-chuan 夏曉鵑

A Vietnamese man comes to Taiwan to work. He is expected to work long hours and his employer docks his wages excessively. As a result, he feels he has no choice but to leave the original employer, his sponsor, and his residency permit expires. In the meantime, he has fallen in love with a Taiwanese woman and she has his baby. The man, wanting the best for his partner and the child and to keep the family together, decides to turn himself in to the National Immigration Agency (NIA). The agency, in line with regulations, fines him for overstaying his residency and imposes restrictions on his return to Taiwan.

Much time, effort and red tape later, the two finally manage to register their marriage and, because he has a family and a child in Taiwan the agency, again in line with the regulations, brings forward the date he will be allowed back into the country.

For some unknown reason, when he applies for his visa to return to Taiwan, the nation’s overseas representative office in Vietnam stamps his visa with “not permitted to apply for resident visa during observation period.”

As a result, although he can return to Taiwan to be with his new wife and child, he cannot legally work during his stay and is required to leave the country every six months and re-apply for an entry visa overseas. This means that his wife has to look after their child single-handedly and earn enough money to support the household.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the cost of flight tickets for his visa runs, on top of the visa application fees, place a huge amount of pressure on the household finances. It becomes increasingly difficult for the couple to maintain any semblance of a normal family life.

There are many similar stories involving international marriages in Taiwan, in no small part because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ overseas offices insist on randomly stamping the visas of the foreign partners of Republic of China (ROC) citizens with directives such as “no extension permitted” or “not permitted to change to resident visa.”

These people are then required to leave the country every six months or in some cases every two months. Even if they have a legally registered spouse or a family in Taiwan, or indeed have children or parents to support, they are unable to work legally as they are not permitted to apply for residency status.

Some are forced to overstay their visas, unable to bear the prohibitive expense of the constant visa runs, so their very presence in the country becomes illegal, as a result of which they spend their time in Taiwan forever looking over their shoulder. What this amounts to is a denial of the right to live a normal life.

When these families complain to the ministry they are met with the same responses: Either that the granting of visas constitutes a sovereign right of the state, which reserves the right to withhold entry, or that it is done for reasons of social order or national security, and that stamping some visas with “not permitted to change to resident visa” is a perfectly reasonable way of preventing foreign nationals entering Taiwan on the back of a fake marriage.

The point is, some of the foreign nationals who have their visas thus stamped by the ministry have a completely unblemished record. Others, despite having previously overstayed, have a Taiwanese spouse and children and have undertaken to set up a family in Taiwan. They have informed the authorities about their visa status, paid the fine, accepted the entry restrictions and followed the necessary procedures to register their marriage and apply for the lifting of entry restrictions.

For the ministry to deny them permission to subsequently apply for a resident visa is to punish them twice for the same administrative offense and as such totally unreasonable.

It is the ministry’s duty and right to review visa applications from foreign nationals and grant them at its discretion, but when a foreign national is the partner of an ROC national, allowing them to come to Taiwan to provide for their family should be a basic right, and they should not be treated in the same way as a foreign national wanting to come as a tourist.

Denying a visa to a foreign national who is the partner of a Taiwanese is to intentionally and unnecessarily make it difficult for that Taiwanese family.

However, the ministry in its infinite wisdom chooses to ignore the genuine nature of these international marriages, hiding behind claims that it is acting in the interests of national sovereignty or national security and willfully ignoring the legal or human rights issues involved, even when these are brought up by legislators.

The irony is that the ministry has been criticized on numerous occasions for its handling of major diplomatic incidents and situations in which it has failed to properly safeguard either national sovereignty or security.

In light of this, one cannot help but wonder whether the ministry, diminished by its impotency in international politics, has decided to flex its muscles by deliberately utilizing the issue of sovereignty to bully and victimize the foreign partners of Taiwanese spouses who dare not protest, a shamefaced attempt to somehow make up for the effrontery it feels its own dignity has suffered.

Hsia Hsiao-chuan is a professor and director of the Graduate Institute for Social Transformation Studies at Shih Hsin University.

Translated by Paul Cooper

Adopted from : Taipei Times Sat, Sep 17, 2011

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