Taipei, Nov. 6 (CNA) The plan to bring the format of Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) numbers in line with that of Taiwan national ID cards will likely take effect by the first half of next year, Interior Minister Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said Monday.
To accommodate a new numbering system for ARCs and Alien Permanent Resident Certificates (APRC), data in the government's computer systems and drop-down menus on government websites will have to be modified, Hsu told CNA by telephone.
"We've been talking to the Cabinet to get approval to fund the project from a reserve fund," Hsu said. "We hope to get the project started by the end of this year."
Hsu first unveiled the plan during an interview last week with Taiwan Business TOPICS, published monthly by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei.
The policy change, if implemented, will affect about 1 million ARC or APRC holders, including 690,000 migrant workers, 30,000 foreign professionals and 300,000 foreign spouses of Taiwanese citizens who have yet to obtain national IDs, the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) said.
During the interview, Hsu said the measure was part of the government's efforts to create a friendly living environment for foreign nationals because it will make their lives easier and increase their sense of belonging in Taiwan.
The proposal has received mixed reactions, however, because ARC or APRC holders will have to change the ID number they use to enroll in the health and labor insurance programs, open a bank account, subscribe to phone or internet service, apply for a driver's license and a work permit, or gain access to other services.
Different from the format of Taiwan's national ID, which consists of a letter and nine-digit number, existing ARCs and APRCs consist of two letters followed by an eight-digit number, a format not always accepted by online registration or booking systems.
Asked by CNA how such a program would be implemented, an official with the National immigration Agency (NIA) said the agency would try to "minimize any inconvenience caused to ARC or APRC holders" because of the switch.
If a new numbering system is adopted, all ARC holders will be assigned a new number when they renew their card, which is valid for a maximum of three years, said the NIA official, who requested anonymity because she was not authorized to speak about the issue publicly.
But ARC holders would also be allowed to get a card with a new number before their old card expired, she said.
APRC holders will not be required to change the number if they do not want to because their card has an unlimited period of validity, the NIA official said.
"I absolutely welcome the change," said Lloyd Roberts, the PR manager of Eiger Law, when asked by CNA in an email about his comments on the proposal.
"I'm not sure why they did this [use a different format] in the first place. They should have done this years ago," said Roberts, who is an APRC holder.
A United States citizen who has lived in Taiwan for over 25 years, Roberts said he has encountered problems using the APRC number with hotel reservations and banking and insurance transactions over the years.
"For example, it is impossible to buy travel insurance online with several of the travel insurance companies. Usually, I have to call them and make a special request and then they fax me the forms to fill out," Roberts said.
Some companies that sell travel insurance online do have systems compatible with ARC numbers, so the other insurers miss out on good business, he said.
In another instance, a credit card company may run a special promotion and require consumers to sign up online to take advantage of the deal, but most of the time, "you can't enter in your APRC number," Roberts said.
"I pay my annual credit card fees and bank interest just like Taiwan citizens, and it is not fair to be blocked like this," he said.
Jeffrey Christian, an Indonesian student who majors in English at National Taipei University of Technology, also welcomed the policy. "Changes are great, and I'll support it."
Christian said he has had trouble using his ARC number to sign up on the 104 job bank and 1111 job bank, the two best-known job search engines in Taiwan.
After he registered his ARC number with the job search systems, a message popped-up saying the number was registered before, but he never received an email asking for a password to complete the registration procedure, Christian said.
Christian said he hoped the government can guarantee the proposed change works as planned and never backfires for any reason. "One human error or system malfunction can ruin everything for people with ARCs," he said.
A foreign professional who has been living and working in Taiwan for 17 years said it's unclear at this point how the proposed change would benefit foreign nationals.
"The authorities would have to explain that in greater detail. In practical terms, I think it's going to be a nightmare for those of us who have been living here a long time," she said.
"I think that's the case even if the government manages to efficiently implement the change across its various data systems.
"For starters, I think we'd have to make the rounds in person to register the new ID number with every private-sector entity in Taiwan with which we do business, including banks and telecom companies," she said.
Roberts held a different view. "Having ID cards and other renewal procedures is a normal part of life, so I don't see a big problem here," he said.
"In the end, the benefits will outweigh the work involved. The National Immigration Agency is very efficient and friendly, and I don't think the process of switching over to a new number would be much of a hassle," Roberts said.
According to Hsu, the cost of modifying the data in the computer system and redesigning the websites operated by the MOI alone is estimated at between NT$50 million (US$1.6 million) and NT$60 million.
Other government agencies that need to make adjustments to their computer systems before a new ARC numbering system can be introduced include, along others, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and the Financial Supervisory Commission, according to the NIA.