In Taiwan, spouses from mainland China face longer waits for work permits and Taiwanese identity cards than do immigrant spouses from other places. But the Taipei government is slowly rolling back discriminatory rules.

Chanting, "no discrimination, we want equality," hundreds of mainland Chinese spouses marched to the presidential office building in Taipei in April.  Han Tung-lan, who came with her husband and daughter, explained her reason for marching.

Request for equality

She says it is because they are treated unfairly. She says the marchers are fighting for the rights they are entitled to. They want to receive Taiwanese IDs in four years, just like other foreign spouses do.

Currently, mainland spouses must wait eight years to obtain a Taiwanese identity card. They must also wait up to six years before getting work permits, and face inheritance caps of about 60,000 dollars. By contrast, foreign spouses from other countries can get work permits within 15 days of entering Taiwan. They also face no caps on inheritance.

Reason behind restrictions

According to National Immigration Agency figures, about 264,000 mainland spouses live in Taiwan. Most of them are women.

The restrictions they face were originally intended to protect national security. Taiwan has been self-governed since Nationalist forces fled there at the end of a civil war with China's communist forces, in 1949. China claims the island as its territory, and has threatened to invade Taiwan should its leaders declare formal independence.

Officials also worry that some mainlanders may enter into false marriages to be able to live and work in Taiwan, which has a higher standard of living than does China.

Better life?

But not all the spouses came seeking a better life. Shirley Yuan has been living in Taiwan for four years. Before marrying her Taiwanese husband, she worked in the Chinese foreign service. Her marriage meant giving up her career. And once they moved to Taiwan, she was not allowed to work.

"During the first three years, I just thought about how I could go back to Beijing and take my daughter with me," she said.  "But because my husband loves the family, loves the child.  I must stay in the best interest of my family."

Because of her Beijing accent, Yuan says men here sometimes call her "dalu mei", a common expression for a mainland Chinese woman. Here it is similar to calling a woman a "babe" in English. Yuan says it is insulting.

Some improvements

The situation has been slowly improving for mainland spouses. Last April, the Taiwan legislature reduced the waiting time for some Chinese spouses to qualify for work permits. Because she has a daughter, Yuan was able to apply and now works for a technology company. Mainlanders with elderly spouses, who are victims of domestic abuse, or who are in low-income households are also eligible to work under the new law.

But advocates say they will keep pushing until mainland spouses have the same rights as other foreign spouses. Wang Chuan-ping is the chairwoman of the New Immigrants Labor Rights Association in Taipei.

Wang says that if a foreign spouse here is considered a second-tier citizen, a mainland Chinese spouse is on the third tier. She says that what they are asking for is to simply raise the third tier to the second.

That will require reducing the work-permit waiting period, lifting caps on inheritance, and removing restriction on bringing children over from China. A draft amendment now is moving through the legislature that would accomplish all three things. Lawmakers, however, have made no guarantees as to if and when the amendment will be brought to a vote.