Until 1989, Taiwan did not allow low-skilled foreign workers entry, and strictly controlled other types of workers. In promoting the 14 major infrastructure construction projects, the government took an ad-hoc approach and accepted the first batch of low-skilled foreign construction workers. Three years later, the Employment Services Act was passed to allow private industries to hire foreign workers. This opened the door for more foreign workers to enter Taiwan for employment.
Since then, the vast majority of guest workers in Taiwan have been “industrial workers” employed in manufacturing and construction, with limited numbers working as caregivers. Starting in 2008, the number of social welfare workers began increasing and the number of industrial workers began to fall. In April 2009, the total number of welfare workers increased to 172,657, 942 more than the number of industrial workers from a year ago.
Tsai Meng-liang of the Council of Labor Affairs said this is a reflection of Taiwan’s economy and social structure. In the United Daily News he noted that the economy is recovering with the number of industrial orders on the rise, this will likely trigger a fresh demand for industrial workers.
In commenting on the rising number of healthcare workers in Taiwan, the United Evening News said that Taiwan is unprepared for the needs of an aging society. When the elderly population surges, the cheapest way to cope with it is to increase the number of guest workers.
Recently, the number of foreign workers not reporting to their jobs is rising. According to statistics compiled in 2009, the number of missing workers totaled 28,487, of which, 12,845 are Vietnamese. Beside Vietnamese workers, there are also many from the Philippines and Thailand. In the last 16 years, the number of Southeast Asian workers in Taiwan has risen by 30 times, according to the Bangkok Post. Currently, 61,000 Thai workers and their spouses are living in Taiwan.
The Council of Labor Affairs said that the top reasons for guest workers to disappear from their employment is that their “employment period” is about to expire or has expired, and they hope to dodge the high brokerage fees and/or that they are encouraged by other foreign workers to do so.
It is not an easy life for guest workers in Taiwan. Since they usually cannot speak Chinese, there is a language as well as a cultural barrier. Often they are lonely, homesick, and saddled with the burden of paying back large labor brokerage fees.
In order to prevent foreign workers from becoming so heavily indebted, the Council of Labor Affairs established a Direct Hiring Services Center in 2007. The center helps Taiwanese employers hire foreign workers directly; this cuts out agency fees by eliminating brokerage agencies.