Labour-strapped Taiwan is looking for 20,000 top-level “special” professionals and 200,000 overseas university students as part of a wider recruitment target aimed at filling jobs amid its population decline.
Taipei said in September that it was looking to attract 400,000 foreign workers by 2030, but it is competing with the likes of Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore and South Korea, who are also all facing shrinking local workforces due to low birth rates.
The 20,000 special professionals would come as “innovators” or Silicon Valley “heavyweights”, the National Development Council said on Tuesday as it confirmed that it had already recruited over 10,000 by December.
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A segment of the 400,000 overall goal, the special professionals would qualify for work in semiconductors, blockchain, finance and offshore wind power, the statement said.
All 400,000 of the new foreign workers will be classified as “white collar”, a council officer in-charge told the Post. The foreign talent pool envisioned for 2030 will also include 40,000 other “professionals” and 140,000 “technical workers”, the council has previously said.
“Actively attracting international high-level talent to Taiwan has many levels of significance,” the statement said.
“Attracting high-level talent to contribute to Taiwan’s industries will help to enhance industrial competitiveness.”
Hong Kong and Singapore have also relaxed certain entry requirements, enabling foreigners to remain long-term.
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“I think everyone is competing for the same thing,” said Alicia Garcia-Herrero, Asia-Pacific chief economist with Natixis Corporate & Investment Banking in Hong Kong.
She added that labour is especially “tight” in Taiwan, but that overseas students will hope to work in Taiwan after graduating from local universities.
Taiwan’s domestic workforce is expected to shrink as the island’s overall population declined by 110,674 people last year, owing to a historically low number of births and the most deaths ever.
Taiwan’s fertility rate is forecast to fall to the world’s lowest by 2035, the National Development Council said in October, although an anticipated turnaround by 2045 offers hope for the industrialised island that depends on a stable labour force for its signature hi-tech exports.
“Taiwan’s economic structure is no longer labour-intensive,” said Darson Chiu, a research fellow with the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research in Taipei.
“It is technology-intensive. Therefore, recruiting foreign technical workers and professionals can truly help solve Taiwan’s labour shortage problem.”
More than 5,300 foreigners in the professional talent category have qualified under a three-year visa and open work-permit scheme created in 2018.
Colum Brolly, a software engineer from Ireland, moved to Taiwan in 2018 and has benefited from the setting up of a government office to answer questions, as well as an English-language job website.
“Every year it seems to get better. They definitely seem to be moving in the right direction,” said the 31-year-old tech start-up operator, adding that applications for permanent residency have become quicker since 2021.
Last month, Taiwan’s cabinet approved 52 draft amendments to its Immigration Act to make residency easier for foreign workers.
But the new talent being sought by government officials will not cover a growing hole in Taiwan’s flagship hi-tech workforce, said Brady Wang, a Taipei-based analyst with the Counterpoint market research firm.
“From what I can tell, it’s not quite enough,” said Wang, with technology making up around 30 per cent of Taiwan’s gross domestic product.
“The birth rate is getting lower, so this issue is becoming more and more pronounced.”
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Larger chip designers and manufacturers that can pay top salaries may survive, Wang added, but “second-tier companies” with lower salaries will struggle.
Trouble filling technology jobs began to show last year as birth rates fell, he added.
Taiwan may also struggle to retain its 200,000 foreign university students unless they know in advance they can get work visas after graduation, Garcia-Herrero added.
Taiwanese universities will need to teach more classes in English, she added, or let foreign students study Chinese along with other subjects.
In October, Hong Kong extended the stay for non-local graduates to two years, while also offering a new two-year visa to individuals who earned no less than HK$2.5 million (US$318,000) per year, and graduates of the world’s top 100 universities with at least three years’ working experience over the past five years.
The scheme is similar to one unveiled by Singapore to lure high-fliers earning at least S$30,000 (US$22,800) a month.
Taiwan, though, has not dropped all barriers on foreign talent because local job-hunters and parents of high-achieving students do not want too much competition, Garcia-Herrero said.
“Taiwan needs this more than anyone else,” she added. “They will have to fight for this talent. It won’t be easy.”
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