The woes of the 'foreign brides': Xenophobia still lurks around

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
Photo courtesy: Tsu-ying Liang, TASAT
Thirty years ago, Taiwan's economy was booming and was better than that of most South East Asian countries. At that time, even China's GDP was lower than Taiwan’s and their foreign policy was not welcoming foreigners. So back then many Vietnamese and Indonesian women migrated to marry Taiwanese men - they preferred them over those from other wealthy countries like Korea or Japan, because many Vietnamese and Indonesians are Chinese descendants.

But since last 10 years, Taiwan no longer enjoys high economic growth rate, and so South East Asians prefer other affluent countries to migrate to. Today, of a total population of 169,423 foreign spouses, 56% are from Vietnam, 17% are from Indonesia, 5% are from Thailand, 5% are from the Philippines, and the rest come from Cambodia and other East Asian countries.

Tsu-ying Liang, a senior member of TransAsia Sisters Association, Taiwan (TASAT), who has been actively associated with marriage migrants’ struggle in Taiwan, shared with CNS (Citizen News Service) the major issues and challenges confronting the migrant married women in Taiwan. She will be among the key participants at the forthcoming 3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017), to be held in Chiang Mai, Thailand (7-9 September 2017).

Risk of being Stateless

Taiwan’s Nationality Act requires that foreign spouses give up their original nationality after obtaining Taiwan’s nationality, but it does not guarantee that their Taiwanese nationality will not be withdrawn. The Act states that their Taiwanese nationality can be revoked if there is a court ruling on their fraudulent marriage. However, it ignores the fact that the court’s rulings on fraudulent marriages can be very flawed.

“In many instances, these foreign spouses often have language barriers and lack information, and/or legal assistance to help defend themselves in courts. Sometimes, even the in-law’s family or friends report or threaten to report to the police that that migrant has had a fake marriage just to settle personal scores. Furthermore, even though many courts’ rulings on fraudulent marriages have clearly stated not to prosecute due to the fraud being a very minor one - like the marriage is legal, but the migrant lied about her age on the marriage certificate or other documents. But the Ministry of Interior generally overrules this, and metes out the harsh penalty of revoking their nationality and making them stateless. This puts them in a no-win situation. It is difficult for them to get back their original nationality after renouncing it; and if they remain in Taiwan they are excluded from social benefits such as health insurance, national pension fund, family assistance programmes, and public assistance initiatives, etc”, said Liang.

A recent December 2016 amendment of the Nationality Act grants divorced domestic violence survivors, widowed foreign spouses - who remain in contact with their in-laws - and those who support or have obligations towards their Taiwanese children, the right to apply for naturalization.

Violation of the right to family reunion

Photo courtesy: Tsu-ying Liang, TASAT
According to Immigration Act of Taiwan, the right of residency of divorced foreign spouses is determined by the custody of their juvenile children. If a foreign spouse does not meet the financial requirements for naturalization, he/she can only legally reside in Taiwan until his/her children reach the age of 20. Moreover, they are not eligible to apply for 'dependent residence' from embassies and missions abroad for entrance into Taiwan because they are neither 'the spouse of a Taiwanese citizen nor a juvenile descendent of a Taiwanese national.'

Stigma lurks too

Immigrant-married women are often labelled as 'gold diggers' and 'social problems', and their ability of parenting and loyalty in marriage is constantly questioned. They are called 'foreign brides' - a term which implies pervasive xenophobia and discrimination against them. They are not only seen as outsiders but also as Taiwanese men's subordinates. This gender stereotype, intertwined with the Chinese ethnocentrism, makes immigrant women, of low socio-economic position, a voiceless minority in Taiwanese society.

Flawed Interpretation Services?  

Availability of quality interpretation services not only ensures the defendant’s right to defend, but also directly affects the party’s rights to life, liberty and property. Taiwan’s lack of a comprehensive interpretation system is not only inconsistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but also violates the due process principle in a modern legal state. There is no clear and uniform mandate amongst government agencies for allocating sufficient budgets to provide and manage interpretation services, and various agencies have their own regulations regarding the provision of interpretation services.

Some achievements!

Liang is in charge of the empowerment work of marriage migrants and advocacy on immigrants’ rights at  TASAT. She is proud of TASAT's many achievements despite formidable odds: "Our immigrant staff not only attend advocacy training workshops, they also help organize several press conferences. Organizing press conferences requires good coordination with other NGOs, knowledge of the issue, and how to write the press release. In the beginning, knowing that Chinese is not their mother tongue, we ask them to only draft a one-minute speech for the press conference. After one year of training, they are able to even host the press conference by themselves. We also organize musical and theatrical events, and public speeches involving immigrant women from different countries. We work very hard to restore their self-confidence and bring out their talents. Sometimes the marriage migrants join our trainings because perhaps they like to perform in front of the audience. But in the process, they become competent enough to learn about the issues concerning their rights."

TASAT which is also a member of Alliance of Marriage Migrants Organizations for Rights and Empowerment, advocates for policy and legal reforms. Its Alliance for Human Rights Legislation for Immigrants and Migrants (AHRLIM) sent its own draft of amendment to the Immigration Act to the Congress in 2005, which was eventually passed in 2007. This amendment has better preventative provisions for domestic violence and human trafficking survivors, bans profit-oriented marriage brokers, and has anti-discrimination provisions, etc. Its untiring efforts resulted in the Ministry of Interior relaxing, in 2008, the financial proof of NT$ 5,000,000 (USD 166,666) for immigrant women as one of the naturalization requirements. In 2011 an amendment to the Employment Services Act allowed foreign spouses who have permission to reside in Taiwan to apply for a work permit. Prior to this, widowed, divorced or childless immigrant women could not work in Taiwan.

With the liberal Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) coming to power in 2016, more reforms are expected for the foreign brides of Taiwan.

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service) 
28 August 2017
(Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor at CNS (Citizen News Service) and the above article is based upon her interview series of key women leaders in Asia Pacific region who have played a key role in striving for development justice. Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla)