Taipei, March 20 (CNA) Taiwan started a three-month amnesty program for foreign nationals who have overstayed their visas, allowing them to pay smaller fines should they decide to report to the immigration authorities during the grace period, the National Immigration Agency (NIA) said Friday.
At a press conference, NIA Deputy Director-General Bill Chung (鐘景琨) said that the "Expanded Overstayers Voluntary Departure Program," which will run until June 30, comes at a time during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which undocumented migrant workers and general visa overstayers may wish to go back to their countries of origin but are concerned about the penalties they might incur.
Under the program, there will be no mandatory detention, while the maximum penalty will be NT$2,000 (US$66) and no re-entry ban, compared with detention, a maximum fine of NT$10,000 and an entry ban of 1 to 8 years for those who do not voluntarily contact immigration authorities, Chung said.
"In other words, we won't detain or restrict them from returning to Taiwan at a later date, while minimizing the fine to only NT$2,000, which is the minimum fine if an overstayer is caught," he said.
He encouraged all overstayers to use the program because the NIA plans to impose heavier penalties after the grace period and to organize a nationwide crackdown after the coronavirus pandemic period subsides, Chung said.
The program officially starts on April 1, but amnesty privileges will also be available to those who turn themselves in from Friday, Chung said.
According to NIA statistics, one of the largest number of overstaying foreign nationals in Taiwan are migrant workers, who accounted for 48,545 as of the end of January. Of that number, 23,474 were Indonesian, 21,931 were Vietnamese, 2,366 were Filipino, 773 were from Thailand and one from Malaysia.
Teddy Surachmat, deputy head of the Indonesian representative office in Taiwan, told CNA that his office will distribute information about the amnesty through online media, and will also utilize the help of other Indonesian migrant workers and community leaders to get the word out to undocumented migrant workers.
Surachmat also asked the Taiwan government to test undocumented Indonesian migrant workers who voluntarily contact the immigration authorities for COVID-19 before repatriating them.
In response, Chung said that his agency will follow the guidelines set by the Central Epidemic Command Center by measuring temperatures and examining any overstayer to evaluate if there is a need to send such a person for further testing by the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control.
The program follows on from a similar program conducted from January until the end of June last year, in which over 17,000 overstayers, including more than 9,000 previously undocumented migrant workers who voluntarily contacted immigration authorities were repatriated.
An undocumented migrant worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said the amnesty was "good news," but said she will stay and work in Taiwan because she has a family she needs to support.
"I will just avoid going out if it's not necessary and take extra care of myself," she said.
However, she said she is still willing to seek medical help if she develops symptoms that resembles the coronavirus.