Taipei, May 15 (CNA) The Cabinet on Tuesday unveiled measures to allow young migrant workers and international students to stay in Taiwan as medium-skilled workers to help combat a manpower shortage and the country's declining birth rate.
According to a draft economic immigration bill, the measure is aimed at retaining overseas students who receive high school or vocational school degrees in Taiwan and migrant workers with six years of work experience in Taiwan to meet demand for medium-skilled labor.
International students enrolled in specific education programs, such as the Overseas Youth Vocational Training School or Industry-University Cooperation Courses designed for youth from Southeast Asian and South Asian countries are also eligible.
If the bill passes the Legislature as proposed, Hong Kong and Macau residents who meet the criteria can also apply to work in Taiwan as a mid-level skilled worker.
"Taiwan has long opened its job market to professional talent as well as migrant workers in the manufacturing, construction, social welfare and household sectors, but not to mid-level skilled workers," National Development Council Minister Chen Mei-ling (陳美伶) said at a press conference.
As of August last year, Taiwan's industrial and service sectors had a manpower shortfall of 218,000 employees, 55 percent of whom, or 120,000 people, were characterized as medium-skilled jobs, Chen said.
Mid-level skilled workers range from professional and technical assistants to machine operators, drivers, and skilled assembly line workers.
Under the proposal, foreign mid-level skilled workers must be paid a minimum monthly salary of NT$41,393 (US$1,379) in the industrial sector and NT$32,000 in the social welfare sector so that it does not affect employment opportunities for Taiwanese workers, she said.
According to the council, the average monthly earnings -- including both regular salary and irregular earnings such as overtime pay and bonuses -- of similar medium-skilled Taiwanese employees in the manufacturing sector and in the long-term care industry are NT$39,000 a month and NT$30,457 a month, respectively.
Chen said the relatively higher wage thresholds for migrant skilled workers would prevent foreign workers from taking jobs from Taiwanese workers, but are still low enough to draw interest from local employers because of the many positions that remain unfilled.
For basic low-level migrant workers, local employers currently pay somewhere between NT$24,000 and NT$31,000 per month in salary and employment stability fund contributions for manufacturing workers or up to NT$19,000 for caregivers, the council said.
The bill also includes regulations for migrant skilled workers to apply for permanent residency, naturalization, and dependent visas for their family.
Bringing in mid-level skilled workers is not only essential to meeting the needs of industry to upgrade but also to offset the aging of Taiwan's population, Chen said.
The number of births in the first quarter of the year was down several thousand from the same period of last year, said Chen, and Taiwan's population growth rate will begin to turn negative in 2025 if the trend continues.
The government is also planning to try to attract foreign medium-skilled workers to Taiwan, especially those who have been employed by overseas Taiwanese enterprises, but it will first assess the possible socio-economic effects, she said.