Thursday, October 16, 2014

ROC Nationality Law: What's Wrong and Why It Matters

The current situation regarding naturalization and loss of nationality in Taiwan is very clear, both according to the law and in practice: non-nationals wishing to acquire ROC nationality are required to first renounce their current nationality, while current nationals who acquire a foreign nationality may (but are not required to) apply for renunciation of ROC citizenship.

These requirements are spelled out in the law:

In other words: if you are born an ROC national, you can lose your nationality only with the permission of the Ministry of the Interior, that is, only through application and after obtaining a different nationality, and furthermore, such requests may be denied; while if you are a foreign national who wants to obtain ROC nationality you are required to lose your original nationality, regardless of the nationality laws of the country of origin and Taiwan’s own nationality law as it relates to natural born ROC nationals.

In practice, the vast majority of nationals here are unconcerned about this discrepancy in the Nationality Act, because for the most part Taiwanese nationals know that they can be dual nationals without losing ROC Nationality. However, they should be concerned. Here’s why:

Firstly, the ROC Nationality Law goes against the UN Conventions on the Reduction of Statelessness. The 1961 UN Convention requires that loss of nationality should be conditional upon the prior possession of another nationality. However, ROC Nationality Law requires the certificate of stateless status to be submitted with the application for naturalization; i.e., a person must become stateless without prior possession of (or assurance of acquiring) another nationality. This results in the horrible situation where a spouse who divorces during the naturalization process, but after already renouncing their original nationality, is left in the ROC as a stateless person. This is exactly what the UN Convention seeks to stop, as these people are left without the protection of any government.

There are many thousands of these victims who are stuck in Taiwan without being able to return to their country of origin; many are not even able to reunite with their own families or children. These people are not good for Taiwan socially or economically, and yet it is Taiwan’s own nationality laws that continue to exacerbate this small scale humanitarian crisis.

What's more, ROC nationality law runs counter to the common will of the Taiwanese people. Would Taiwanese prefer to have more low-wage, low-education blue-collar workers from Southeast Asia, or would they prefer to have more high-wage workers, business owners, and highly educated entrepreneurs from countries that have close relationships with Taiwan? Would they prefer to have people choose Taiwanese nationality based on economics, or based on loyalty to Taiwan? Unfortunately, the nationality law works in direct opposition to what the Taiwanese people want. It prevents those highly educated, high-wage workers from living permanently in Taiwan, while at the same time encourages low-wage, low-education workers to live here permanently.

An American or European citizen with long-term plans to stay in Taiwan would certainly like to obtain Taiwanese nationality for the many benefits it confers: the right to pay into the pension fund, to apply for low interest home mortgages, to sponsor family members with the right to work in Taiwan, the right to travel between both home countries at any time and for any amount of time, the right to vote and participate in politics, etc. However, almost no Americans or European citizens are willing to give up their original nationality to get those benefits. In the past 30 years, less than 30 American and European nationals have given up their nationality to take that of the ROC. That’s less than 1 per year. The cost of giving up an American (or European) passport is simply too high.

On the other side of this argument, for foreigners from countries that are less well-off than Taiwan, notably countries in Southeast Asia, losing their original nationality is a very small price to pay to get all of the benefits that ROC nationality has to offer. These nationals are more than happy to renounce their original nationality, which confers no or little right to work or travel in other countries, a poor education and health care system, and few social services, in exchange for the ROC nationality that gives them a comparatively better lifestyle. In the past 30 years, more than 110,000 individuals from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar, and Cambodia have obtained ROC nationality because they felt that losing their original nationality was a small price to pay.

Is this the system Taiwan wants? To encourage people to decide whether or not to obtain ROC nationality based on whether ROC nationality is subjectively "better" or "worse" than their original nationality? Under the current system, nationals of any country that is relatively “worse” than Taiwan in terms of the economy and social/political stability would be happy to exchange their nationality, while nationals of any country that is relatively “better” would not. Or, do the Taiwanese people want a law that allows people to acquire Taiwanese nationality based on loyalty to Taiwan, regardless of conditions in their home country?

The solution is clear. Here’s a proposal for amending the nationality law of the ROC: treat foreign nationals wishing to acquire ROC nationality the same way ROC nationals expect to be treated when obtaining a foreign nationality. In other words, remove the requirement to submit a “document certifying stateless status” from the nationality application, and allow other countries to determine when and if nationality should be revoked based on the acquisition of Taiwanese nationality. That’s it. Remove Article 9 from the Nationality Act, and the associated terms in Item 1, Article 8 and Item 2, Article 9 of the Enforcement Rules of the Nationality Act. Together, these 3 short paragraphs have caused many broken hearts, a small-scale humanitarian crisis, and have actively worked against the desires of the Taiwanese people.

Repeal Article 9. Let us become Taiwanese!

(A shorter version of this article will be printed as an editorial in tomorrow's Taipei Times, October 18, 2014. Edit: Here's the Taipei Times editorial. Also, for more detailed information please check out Forward Taiwan's comprehensive list of proposals on immigration reform.)



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