Taipei, Sept. 16 (CNA) Taiwan was the fifth largest country of origin of people visiting Australia on working holidays last year, behind Britain, South Korea, Ireland and Germany, according to Australian authorities.
Some 130,000 people were in Australia on working holiday visas at the end of 2011, up 14.4 percent from the end of 2010. The number of Taiwanese in the program saw the biggest growth, up 46.3 percent from 2010, according to Australian immigration department figures.
Australia gave 9,112 Taiwanese nationals permits to join the program in 2011, 51.7 percent more than a year earlier, the department said.
Taiwan reached a reciprocal working holiday agreement with Australia in April 2004. It is the only country among Taiwan's working holiday partners that does not cap the number of Taiwanese who can participate in the program in any given year.
Taiwan also has working holiday agreements with New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Britain and Germany, which all set annual quotas for Taiwanese visitors under the program.
The number of foreign participants working under the program in Taiwan is much lower than the number of Taiwanese who go abroad.
According to Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, only 928 permits have been issued to foreign nationals to work in Taiwan, with Japanese taking 517 of them and South Koreans and Australians getting 175 and 128 permits, respectively.
The ministry said it is seeking to reach working holiday agreements with France and Ireland.
The figures were released amid media reports and public debate over whether or not Taiwan's working holiday participants abroad should be labeled as "Taiwanese laborers."
Local media reported last week the story of an economics graduate from a prestigious local university leaving Taiwan for a better-paying job at an Australian meat processing plant through the program.
The report sparked concerns that more Taiwanese would use working holidays to perform manual labor in higher-wage countries.
The ministry responded by saying that such programs were launched to encourage students to venture overseas to broaden their horizons and enrich their international experience and should not be seen as merely "laborers."
(By Emmanuelle Tzeng and Jamie Wang)