News / Economy

Southeast Asian Migrants Revitalizing Taiwan Economy

An investor monitors the stock market at a securities brokerage in Taipei, April 16, 2013.
An investor monitors the stock market at a securities brokerage in Taipei, April 16, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Ralph Jennings
— Decades ago Taiwan was one of the four fastest-growing economies in Asia. But factories have moved away since then, making China the region’s growth leader.  That dynamic has forced Taiwan to look increasingly to its Southeast Asian migrant workers to get the country's economy back on track. 

Taiwan’s annual economic growth of less than four percent has left it lagging behind the rest of industrialized Asia.  Before 2000, Taiwan was growing quickly, reaching a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $467 billion as contracts for high-tech manufacturing put its economy on a level with Singapore and South Korea.

That was before China became the region’s low-cost manufacturing hotspot, luring capital away from Taiwan and avoiding free trade deals with the island’s Beijing-hostile government. Taiwan’s birth rate was also falling and at one child per woman it ranks now as one of the world’s lowest, a threat to productivity.
 
But a growing population of migrant workers is reheating Taiwan’s economy.

Peter O’Neill, a Catholic Church priest, who counsels migrants, says Southeast Asians do valuable work for up to 18 hours per day and get paid less than the Taiwanese.
 
“Those industries are where the working conditions are very dangerous, very hot, very uncomfortable, because Taiwanese people no longer want to work in the manufacturing sector,” O'Neill stated.
 
Nearly 450,000 Southeast Asian workers live in Taiwan today, up from 270,000 just 15 years ago. More than half come from Indonesia and the rest are mainly Thai, Filipino or Vietnamese. Migrants reach Taiwan on short-term labor contracts and are paid minimum wage, earning enough on average by their third year to send money to relatively poor families back home.
 
Taiwan’s government relaxed migrant labor laws last year to let in more workers. The move was part of a bigger directive to bring Taiwanese factories home from China, where they have operated in some cases for nearly three decades.
 
There is no official estimate on migrant labor’s contribution to Taiwan’s economy,  but Liu Shao-yin, supervisor with the Catholic Migrant Centers, a nongovernmental migrant workers service group, said foreign labor now keeps locally owned factories at home.
 
She said the problem Taiwan would face is factory owners moving out of Taiwan. They would relocate plants to mainland China or Southeast Asia because of lower labor costs in those regions, she said, leaving relatively few in Taiwan.
 
Taiwan’s increasing reliance on migrant workers puts it in a league with Hong Kong, Singapore and other countries that look to their poorer neighbors for labor.

Migrants in Taiwan fill a range of jobs. Filipinos may work as engineers for Taiwanese information technology firms. Thai workers can be found doing tough factory work and other Southeast Asians help on fishing boats, a job that many Taiwanese consider dangerous.
 
Many of the 100,000 Vietnamese migrants care for Taiwan’s elderly, freeing up younger Taiwanese who would normally look after their parents to work.
 
Homecare workers earn the equivalent of $530 per month, and factory labor pays a monthly $638, both below average wages for Taiwan.

Filipino national Emmanuel Nanocatcat came a year ago to earn minimum wage plus overtime pay at a family-owned factory in Taipei. “For now, the economy is down, so the changes are really small. Still if you work in the Philippines compared to here, you earn more [in Taiwan]. The salary is good here,” he said.

Some Taiwanese consider migrants a threat as their numbers grow and their lifestyles influence the formerly more homogenous Chinese society.
 
But Taiwan’s government expects higher economic growth this year than last, and investment bank Barclays Capital said the island attracted a notable $5 billion in foreign direct investment over the past four months.
 
Taipei is widely expected to allow more Southeast Asian migrant workers to settle in Taiwan in order to sustain the recent faster rate of economic growth.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7217
JPY
USD
102.17
GBP
USD
0.5949
CAD
USD
1.1009
INR
USD
60.326

Rates may not be current.