Foreigner with a Taiwan ID

Here in expat haven Taiwan, where residence is easy but citizenship hard, it’s a dream of many long-term foreign residents to become legally Taiwanese, without having to first renounce their original nationality. It’s my dream as well.

World Citizen (3)

I hope never to renounce my Canadian citizenship. Canada is in my soul, and I’d hate to betray that feeling.

But damn! I’d love to have an ROC passport. Banking, getting a cell phone, and other personal and business-related tasks would be simpler. I could never be denied renewal of my residence permit. Last but not least, I wouldn’t feel that annoyance of always being a guest, somehow temporary, in the place I call home.

Yes indeed! I might never really become Taiwanese, but I do relish the thought of being promoted to “foreigner with a Taiwanese ID”!

But if you have the ID, doesn’t that make you Taiwanese? Don’t you mean “new Taiwanese” or some such?

No, dear reader! In my humble opinion, there is a difference.

From the 1950’s until the 1990’s, immigration to Taiwan was very low. But then movements of people between China and Taiwan became easier, which started a flow of “Chinese brides” – women hoping for a better life in Taiwan by marrying rural Taiwanese men. Brides from Vietnam and Indonesia, among other countries, also became in demand at this time, coming either from the blue-collar guest workers who started coming to Taiwan in large numbers in the late 1990’s, or sent over by agencies. A much smaller percentage of men also married into Taiwanese nationality.



Government statistics tally it thus: a grand total of 321,683 spouses from China proper have become Taiwanese citizens through marriage, 100,099 from Vietnam, and 28,191 from Indonesia, out of a total of 495,907 marriage-based naturalizations.

One key point about this demographic is that they are – generally speaking – readily assimilated into existing “Taiwaneseness”. Spouses from China integrate into Taiwanese society quite well due to the close cultural relationship between the two countries.

Southeast Asian immigrants come from societies with key cultural commonalities with Taiwan. They are family-oriented, and have that “work hard, save hard, make your kids study hard” approach to life. They also come from high-context societies with a strong focus on group identity and interdependence. When the spouses marry into the family, they usually adopt the language and customs of Taiwan, and their kids are most often brought up simply as Taiwanese. Some Taiwanese high school students I talked to, with many fellow students with a Southeast Asian immigrant parent, told me that in terms of appearance, language use and behavior, “They are just like Taiwanese, you cannot tell the difference.”

These are the new Taiwanese.



In contrast, most of the Western (or Western-influenced) people I know who want Taiwanese citizenship come from individualistic, multicultural societies. They usually don’t want to be completely assimilated into Taiwaneseness, but rather keep their original heritage alive and on display. That usually means keeping their original citizenship. This can also be pretty important for practical reasons, such as being able to return as needed to care for ageing parents, and also conferring citizenship on kids.

These perfectly understandable desires are usually justified by reasons why it is good for Taiwan to change the law. Foremost is that it is unfair, and even silly, for Taiwan to have a renunciation requirement for aliens who wish to naturalize when the same requirement doesn’t apply to Taiwanese. One scenario: A Canadian man marrying a Taiwanese woman could help her get Canadian citizenship. Taiwan would not cancel her Taiwanese citizenship. The couple could also get Canadian citizenship for their kids. But the man would lose his Canadian citizenship if he became Taiwanese. Kafka would have smiled.

I think that many Taiwanese people would sympathize with these frustrations. But you’re not likely to get enough sympathy to get laws changed by talking about double standards to a country that recognizes your home country but isn’t formally recognized by them. Asking Taiwan to fix laws just because they seem weird to vote-less people affected by them doesn’t seem like a strong play. Essentially this is an appeal to compassion, which is weak because white-collar foreigners are viewed as privileged. Which we generally are.

The second major justification invoked is that Western-influenced foreigners bring in intellectual capital, such as creativity, critical thinking, global mindset, artistic skills and traditions, and tech and business knowledge. Thus, measures that encourage them to settle here are good for Taiwan, especially considering the well documented brain drain of talented locals to China, the USA and elsewhere.

Here I think most Taiwanese would definitely agree. But only to the point of making our life here easier, not equal. It’s common knowledge that the government has done a lot to facilitate the ease of life of foreign permanent residents, with liberalized permanent residence card (APRC) laws being the best example. And for those with a very high level of skills, dual citizenship is now on the table, as of March 24th, this year.

But dual citizenship in general for average Joes and Jills? That idea seems to inspire a certain fear of [threat]. Fill in the box with job losses, scams, social disruption, etc. Call it caution or call it xenophobia: it’s a cultural firewall that’s very hard to hack.



Let’s face it: most of us don’t want to become New Taiwanese: we want to become a completely new kind of Taiwanese. It’s a bold idea, a win win scenario, and one that I support 100%. But it’s not our call, and most locals aren’t there yet. Maybe in 10 years, maybe.

If you let go of your past citizenship, dear reader, take the plunge, you will pass the loyalty test and be welcomed to the fold. And you will be loved. But for now, at least, the dream of being a foreigner with a Taiwanese ID is just that.



About jaydeegroot

I am a Canadian writer, editor, researcher and trainer living in Taiwan. My primary areas of interest are cross-cultural relations and processes, in the context of global social change.
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14 Responses to Foreigner with a Taiwan ID

  1. For the most part I agree. I would only add a few points.

    First, as a foreigner who married a Taiwanese, I was a little hesitant to apply for my ARC through marriage, especially since I could get one through work. In the US marriage to a foreigner can come with a stigma of someone only marrying for a “green card.” Maybe I unnecessarily internalized this, but I felt it was important to show her and her family that I didn’t get married for an ARC.

    Second, for a progressive country that just ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, emotional arguments can be more persuasive than rational or logical justifications. Isn’t this a basic principle of rhetoric? Maybe instead of basic the argument on hypocrisy and a double-standard it would be stronger to base it in love?

    Third, these justifications are not mutually exclusive. There are probably other reasons not mentioned. It might be a stretch, but allowing dual citizenship might increase the chance for diplomatic recognition. The more advocates the better. Maybe there’s a social component too. Citizenship might encourage western foreigners to buy in? What if language proficiency was a requirement?

    Enjoyed the read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jim edstein says:

      “but allowing dual citizenship might increase the chance for diplomatic recognition.”

      In your dreams maybe but not in the real world.


  2. Elias Ek says:

    I am working on my application. See how it goes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John W Maloney says:

    The law was amended last month. It’s now possible to get Taiwanese citizenship without renouncing your home country. I believe this applies only to applicants with large investments or very high technical/creative skills (or full-time professors at universities).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dan Jacobson says:

    “recognizes your home country but isn’t formally recognized by them.”: It is either formal/formal or informal/informal. There is no formal/informal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Groot says:

      Perhaps not in terms of de jure diplomatic law and language. But in actual “de facto” practice, which is the rule rather than the exception for international relations here in Taiwan, Taiwan recognizes Canada as a fully sovereign country, whereas Canada does not do the same to Taiwan.


  5. jim edstein says:

    “I hope never to renounce my Canadian citizenship. Canada is in my soul, and I’d hate to betray that feeling.” Than stay a Canadian you don’t need citizenship in Taiwan to be a Canadian. 🙂


    • jaydeegroot says:

      Yep. Until that day dawns – and it may never – when I feel otherwise. We’ll see! But for now, nope! Not that it is in anyway a bad move for someone who felt it was the best thing to do. New Taiwanese, jia you!


  6. Tainan Cowboy says:

    A sometimes “touchy” and excellent expat topic.
    For the most part, these expats migrant expats who seek “Taiwan Citizenship” do so for the reasons mentioned. However, it looks (and I could be wrong) that actual ‘citizenship’ is not something they are really concerned about.
    And really, the biggest factor is still “Do they look like a Taiwan person”?
    Most don’t – and they ain’t fooling anyone.
    And, BTW, a “language proficiency (basic level)” is still a requirement. Unless you got the $$$.
    “Stay Classy Taiwan”
    Good topic.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Not sure what the point is getting Taiwan citizenship is. Considering the ROC’s diplomatic status, being a Taiwan citizen has just as much importance as someone from Venezuela or Mauritius.

    Some might say that are intending on staying here so they are paying into the ROC’s pension system. If you examine how much it is. It’s nothing compared to what you would get in your country of origin.

    If you have children the education system is also very poor. Now did rank 4th place when it came to science scores of 15/16 year olds in 2015, which was something Taiwan media got excited about. But the education system here is all about memorizing and not about original thinking. How many elementary and high school students here have ever been to any museums? How many are exposed to arts and culture? It’s better to have students as robots in uniforms.

    3 years ago a friend of mine who has a 14 year old son, who has been studying piano since he was 2 years old. He and his wife had to send him to a music academy in Belgium. Because he couldn’t learn anything here.

    The other problem is as a democracy Taiwan is still very young. As for stability it all depends on China. If a political uprising happened in China it would totally destabilize the island.

    Liked by 1 person

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