Changes to Nationality Law irk Taiwan’s foreign-born residents

I feel ya, Ingrid, I really do.

My article from today’s News Lens (27/03/2017).

An old friend and mentor of mine still likes to say that I quit a journalism degree 20 years ago because I didn’t like talking to people on the phone. Like the work of our mutual hero, Ryszard Kapuściński, this claim lurks in an anteroom between reality and fiction: I never minded talking to people – I just didn’t like calling them.

And even that’s not completely true. There was a certain type that I never had any hesitation in calling: the rent-a-quote, a purveyor of made-to-order sound bites. This, you understand, was an innocent age of red-top tabloid sensationalism, where click-bait sounded like a fishing innovation and social-media-level dissemination of fake news was nary a glint in Rupert Murdoch’s beady eye.

As we chat over our bowls of stinky tofu soup, Matt is doing a good impression of one of these cliché generators. “My heart is bleeding,” he says. “It’s like Taiwan is cheating on me with the first guy off the boat.”

We’re discussing the announcement that foreigners will no longer have to renounce citizenship from their country of origin to gain Taiwanese nationality. This should have been a cause for celebration. For years, expats have been railing against the double standard that allows Taiwanese to hold two passports. Now, at last, it seemed the government had taken heed and acted.

There are not many passages in the Bible I recall better than Revelation 3:16. “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,” Jesus tells the Laodicean Church, “I will spue thee out of my mouth.” Here, the Lord is admonishing vacillators who lack the strength enough in their convictions to commit firmly to one course. These types, according to most Bible exegesis, are worse than non-believers who stick to their guns.

Like the commitment of the Laodiceans, the government’s promulgation of the amendment to the Nationality Act is as tepid as the output of the water coolers. And, the decision to extend dual nationality only to “high-level professionals in the technological, economic, educational, cultural, art, sports, or other domains who have been recommended by the central competent authority” has left a residue that has left many spewing.

“This is worse than if they just left the old rules in place,” says Matt, echoing JC’s point. “Before it was the same for everyone. It was just Taiwan-born and foreigners. Now they have split the foreigners into groups, saying some aren’t good enough. Even if I did qualify, I would still be mad, because it’s completely unfair.” This last observation chimes with points made by Taiwan blogger Jenna Cody.

You won’t find anyone more integrated than me,” Matt says. “Everything I buy is made in Taiwan. Look at these shoes, this phone,” – he holds up his HTC – “trust me, you won’t find many people like me here.” He shakes his head as he spoons boiled cabbage into his bowl. “And now, basically some guy who just comes to do some research – some guy who doesn’t actually give a shit about Taiwan – he can get citizenship just like that.”

As we walk through the night market after dinner, Matt is downcast. He has been here a decade, has a wife and child who are Taiwanese nationals, speaks fluent Mandarin, with what I would describe as upper-intermediate reading, and has recently applied himself to learning Taiwanese. “Today was the first day since I started two months ago that I haven’t practiced,” he says forlornly. “If I didn’t have a wife and kid, I feel like I would leave right now. Taiwan doesn’t deserve me.”

He tells me not to use that last comment. “They will probably say, ‘Look at this foreigner complaining about Taiwan. Why doesn’t he just go back home?’ I guess I need to ‘de-integrate,’ ‘de-Taiwanize’ myself in order to be happy here.”

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