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Gold Card an effective foreign-talent lure in knowledge economy

2019/04/05 14:20:23

Austrian pianist Albert Muhlbock

By Lee Hsin-Yin, CNA staff reporter

Anybody visiting Albert Muhlbock has no need for detailed directions. Just follow the music in his quiet neighborhood in Taichung, and you'll find him.

"The neighbors were complaining at first, but then they got used to it and would ask me where I had gone if they didn't hear music for days," said the pianist, who has lived in the central Taiwan city for three years.

The Austrian said he cherishes the flexibility to teach in various schools and offer private lessons instead of being tied to one employer, which would have been impossible without the "Employment Gold Card" he obtained last year.

Employment Gold Card

A 4-in-1 pass comprising a work permit, resident visa, alien resident certificate, and re-entry permit, the Gold Card came into being under the Act for the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals.

Drawn up by the National Development Council (NDC) and passed by the Legislative Yuan on Oct. 31, 2017, the new law was conceived to help recruit foreign talent by providing a friendlier environment for foreign professionals such as Muhlbock with expertise and a record of achievement in a specific field.

The law sought in part to accommodate the changing definition of work in the knowledge economy era, in which professionals with specific skills are more likely to work for themselves rather than be bound to a single employer.

Since the law took effect on Feb. 8, 2018, there have been around 420 Gold Card applications, and 260 of them had been approved, the NDC said.

It means people like Muhlbock have the freedom to pursue their careers in Taiwan without visa and residency concerns as long as they meet professional requirements in their specialized fields, whether architecture, law, science and technology, culture or education.

Previously, foreign professionals could only apply for a fixed work permit tied to a specific employer, and the permit terminated when the employment ended.

Their ability to stay in Taiwan after that depended on the type of resident visa they obtained when entering the country. If they got the visa for job purposes, they had to leave Taiwan after they stopped working.

Muhlbock obtained his Gold Card based on expertise in education, while Tom Fifield got his in the science and technology field.

Talent in many fields

The Australian, who started working for himself in 2018 teaching companies how to build cloud systems as part of a global open source project, said the new program came at the perfect time because he had already been in Taiwan for four years and needed to renew his work permit.

(Tom Fifield)

"If I wanted to take up a side job or have a second engagement I could do that with the Gold Card, and that was a big benefit for me," he said.

For others, the card provides a sense of stability as they look for jobs or serves as an incentive to work in Taiwan.

Gabriele de Seta, an Italian media anthropologist, applied for the Gold Card from Italy last summer. Visa restrictions had forced him to return home after working for Academia Sinica and doing some freelance work.

(Gabriele de Seta)

"As a freelancer, someone who is kind of in between jobs, starting his career, I think the Gold Card helps me in having stability and a bit of safety, knowing that I can work legally in Taiwan," said de Seta, whose expertise is education.

Challenges for the government

Applying for a Gold Card costs between NT$3,000 (US$97) and NT$8,000 depending on an applicant's nationality and the length of stay requested (it can be from one to three years).

Most Gold Card holders find the online-based application process convenient, but drawbacks remain, some suggest.

John Chen, a financial specialist who recently moved back Taiwan to help Taiwanese startups go global, said the process was challenging for people wanting to bring their families with them.

(John Chen)

The program required his young children to come to Taiwan in person to process the permit, a major inconvenience, he said.

De Seta felt a big problem is that too few people actually know about the program -- he found out about the Gold Card by accident -- and that Taiwan's many recruitment programs and respective requirements can be confusing.

Still, the Gold Card holders generally praised the process and felt it made Taiwan more appealing for foreign professionals.

Boosting Taiwan's competitiveness

Colum Brolly, an Irish software engineer who applied for the card in the science and technology field, said it offers younger professionals more opportunity.

(Colum Brolly)

"You can come to Taiwan and enter the country as a resident with an open work permit that allows you to network and take opportunities or walk into them as you see them come up, which makes Taiwan more competitive in attracting international talent," he said.

A welcoming country

Taiwan's living environment has also given these professionals reason to stay.

Tomas Rizek, a Czech illustrator who published his first book in Taiwan 15 years ago, found himself spending more time in Taiwan than in Europe over the years working with Taiwanese partners and eventually set up a branch of his Czech publishing house here.

(Tomas Rizek)

"My feeling sometimes of Taiwan is Taiwan is an island with the special communities, small communities with special interaction, these are very important for me," said Rizek, who applied for the card in the field of culture.

The foreign professionals said they were keen to help Taiwan become more competitive.

Opportunities for Taiwan

Chen said Taiwan is still stuck in a mindset of making hardware, where profit margins are being squeezed, while falling behind in developing software, which generates value.

"One of my intermediate goals is to find a company in Taiwan that I can help take on to the global stage and then create a role model for younger kids to look up to and then they'll start believing and then try to do their own stuff," he said.

For Muhlbock, who has spent decades studying the clavichord, an early European keyboard instrument seen as the predecessor of the piano, one of his goals is to introduce it to Taiwan as local research on the instrument is almost non-existent.

"I found out (the clavichord) is very helpful to study for piano students to achieve better sound colors and better control of the piano," he said.

Muhlbock, who speaks fluent Mandarin, said he wants to contribute as much as possible to Taiwan's music development, having anchored himself in the country since his first visit 20 years ago.

"Taiwan has become my second home on the other side of the earth," he said.

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