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A quick internet search (in either English or Mandarin) reveals dozens of articles from throughout the past decade discussing Taiwan's so-called "population crisis". Headlines such as Taiwan will be a super-aged society by 2026 and Taiwan's Population Hits a Turning Point permeate the search results. They all spell out the statistics that lead to a single conclusion: Taiwan has a demographics problem.

A couple of key figures give the overall picture:

  • The current fertility rate is somewhere south of 1.1 children per women, barely half of the replacement rate of 2.1.
  • Taiwan will become a "super-aged" society in just a few years, with over 20% of the population above working age; if the trend continues, over 40% of the population will be above working age in a just a few decades.

In other words, ever fewer young people are entering the work force, even as ever more are entering their retirement years. Clearly, this is not a sustainable scenario.

A healthier migration program

According to a recent editorial in the Taipei Times, using statistics provided by the Ministry of the Interior, the author shows that a positive net migration rate was the only thing keeping population growth in the black in 2019. Thankfully, the government claims to understand that migration is an excellent way to maintain the workforce size, and to improve labor quality and availability across industries. To that end, reforms over the past decade to make migration easier and safer have been appreciated by migrants of all backgrounds in Taiwan.

One area which is especially relevant to a healthy migration program is the naturalization process. As migration is an important factor in mitigating the looming demographic crisis, policymakers should consider the various circumstances under which people choose to settle permanently and make Taiwan their home. Dual nationality in particular deserves another look, as previous efforts to allow dual nationality were unsuccessful.

Who naturalizes in Taiwan, and why?

Under the current nationality law, which requires immigrants to give up their original citizenship, the numbers clearly show that a vast majority of naturalized Taiwanese are Southeast Asian women married to a Taiwanese spouse. These migrants are more likely to be stay-at-home mothers, caretakers, or other blue-collar workers that receive lower salaries, pay fewer taxes, have fewer choices for work at home, and fewer options for migration abroad.

Most importantly, these migrants are also more likely to feel undue pressure to give up their original citizenship in order to naturalize for reasons wholly unrelated to national loyalty, such as getting away from notoriously dishonest labor brokers or potentially dangerous domestic situations without losing their children. While Taiwan would do well to resolve these types of situations more fundamentally, no one should feel forced into giving up their citizenship in order to avoid them.

For another group of migrants—white-collar workers, business owners and entrepreneurs from countries with advanced economies—relaxing restrictions around dual nationality can provide a much stronger incentive than current options to settle permanently in Taiwan. These are the same people who are likely to have higher salaries, pay more taxes, and enjoy the privilege of more options for migration elsewhere around the world. When making the choice to move somewhere with a path to (dual) citizenship vs. somewhere without, this difference undoubtedly holds significant weight. If these migrants don't consider Taiwan to begin with, Taiwan loses the chance to persuade them altogether.

Passport quality is another important consideration for anyone choosing to change their nationality. In the table below, taken from the 2019 Henley Passport Index, you can see some relevant countries and their "Access" level, that is, how many countries passport holders can visit visa-free:

Rank Country Access
1 Japan, Singapore 190
2 South Korea, Germany, Finland 188
3 Denmark, Italy 187
4 France, Sweden, Spain, Austria 186
5 Netherlands, Portugal 185
6 Norway, Switzerland, UK, US, Belgium, Canada, Greece, Ireland 184
12 Malaysia 177
31 Taiwan 145
66 Thailand 77
73 Indonesia 70
77 Philippines 65
90 Vietnam 51

Clearly, the vast majority of naturalizations occur among those with the lowest quality passports. While Southeast Asian migrants may view the Taiwanese passport as a big "step-up" and therefore be willing to "trade," in the same way, migrants with high-value passports may well view it as a "step down."

None of the aforementioned reasons - passport value or force of circumstance - are a good basis for choosing to naturalize (or not), let alone to renounce one's existing citizenship. The decision to naturalize should be based on love of country and a desire to take on the full set of rights and responsibilities associated with citizenship. The best way to promote this type of healthy decision-making for those considering naturalization is to remove the renunciation requirement entirely.

Coming back to the "population crisis," a few things are clear. Migrants of all backgrounds bring important benefits, whether in the form of children and family, jobs, investments, technical skills, or otherwise, all of which help to mitigate the demographic problems of brain drain, low fertility, and an aging population. The renunciation requirement discourages migration generally, has a number of net-negative effects on migrants regardless of socioeconomic status, and is therefore ultimately detrimental to Taiwan.

The current trends in migration and naturalization are clear, both around the world and in Taiwan specifically. Taiwanese should understand the reasons for these trends in order to make appropriate policy decisions. My hope is that most Taiwanese, after understanding the issue, will agree that allowing dual nationality is the right way forward.


You can help!

If someone you know may be eligible for Taiwanese naturalization, please share this article with them, and like us on Facebook and Twitter to show your support. If you are eligible for naturalization, but are unwilling or unable to proceed due to the renunciation requirement, please join our mailing list. You'll be the first to know of any meeting, rally, press conference, or other public action where your support would be most valuable.