Influx of Indian workers in Taiwan? Firms roll out welcome mat, but ‘prejudices’ lurk

A Taiwanese developer of PC power supplies may be ahead of its time.

AcBel Polytech, which was founded in 1981, has 7,000 employees, but recently the firm has attempted to boost their ranks by recruiting Indian students from Taiwanese universities.

“We try to bring other countries’ talent to work with us, and India, why not?” assistant vice-president James Hsieh said on the sidelines of the Computex Taipei tech show in early June, with the company having been interviewing students on university campus’ for at least the past year.

Taipei’s Ministry of Labour signed a memorandum of understanding with India in February to allow its citizens to help plug a stubborn labour shortage spawned by Taiwan’s low birth rate.

Media in Taiwan and India have said as many as 100,000 Indian nationals could eventually reach Taiwan to work in factories, on farms and in hospitals. India is also known for its tech talent.

But approval of a labour deal is still pending parliamentary approval in Taipei, and since the memo was signed, scepticism has arisen on both sides about how well Indian workers would adapt.

Taiwan’s economic development level is a bit higher, so Taiwan has some attractiveness
Fang Tien-sze, Taiwan-India Research Association

Taiwan’s government said in September 2022 that it aimed to attract 400,000 more foreign workers by 2030 as employers fell short of applicants in tech, a sector that makes up around 30 per cent of the island’s gross domestic product.

The current legislative session is due to end in mid-July, with lawmakers embroiled in a month-old dispute over a bill that increases the legislature’s oversight powers.

And a ministry spokesman sees little chance of the labour deal with India being approved before the summer recess.

Taiwan has not fixed the number of workers it hopes to recruit from India, the spokesman added, while the Ministry of Labour does not have figures for the number of Indian workers employed in Taiwan.

“Taiwan’s economic development level is a bit higher, so Taiwan has some attractiveness,” said Fang Tien-sze, a professor and CEO of the Taiwan-India Research Association, a group of scholars and others with connections to India based in Taiwan.

“[But] Taiwan for Indians is an unknown place – they don’t know what the language and culture are all about.”

“For Taiwan, [more Indian labour] is an opportunity for study,” Fang said, suggesting that an increased presence would allow locals to better understand Indians. “It would be good to increase inclusiveness.”

But some Taiwanese may harbour “prejudices” toward India, he added.

Taipei’s labour ministry apologised in March after comments by then-minister Hsu Ming-chun that her government would recruit workers from northeastern India – because their skin colour and eating habits are similar to Taiwan’s – drew sharp criticism from India.

An earlier statement from the Ministry of Labour about the cooperation deal said Indian workers had a “stable temperament” with the ability to work hard and achieve “fine reviews”.

A larger presence of Indian professionals in Taiwan would deepen ties, said Sameer Lalwani, a senior South Asia expert with the US Institute of Peace’s Asia Centre.

Taiwan has been actively chasing stronger trade, investment and economic relations in South and Southeast Asia for the past eight years to offset reliance on mainland China.

Taiwanese investment in India last year and in the first four months of this year combined reached US$5.6 billion, representing twice the total for all of 2021 and 2022, Department of Investment Review data showed.

It is a much better destination for Indian workers compared to most places they go for migrant labour
Sameer Lalwani, US Institute of Peace’s Asia Centre

“Among Indians, the West seems to be a more common and viable option to move for work,” said Sana Hashmi, a fellow with the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation in Taipei.

“There is still a lack of familiarity with Taiwan and work opportunities among Indians.”

Indians have been “plugging labour shortages” across the Persian Gulf for the past 50 years to support construction following the Middle East’s oil boom, Lalwani added.

Some migrant workers in the region have switched from blue-collar jobs to more skilled ones, he said.

But with India facing a domestic job shortage and labour surplus, Taiwan has become an attractive destination, he added.

“Because Taiwan is a highly developed democracy with high levels of political and civil liberties, along with high labour rights and safety conditions, it is a much better destination for Indian workers compared to most places they go for migrant labour,” Lalwani said.

At Computex, Gary Hsu, a manager at computer chassis builder Guanghsing Industrial that employs Thai and Filipino workers, said he trusted the abilities of Indian engineers.

And Albert Liu, CEO of artificial intelligence chip designer Kneron, said he would consider hiring Indian workers.

Indian employees in Taiwan could “acquire skills and experience” from the island’s advanced semiconductor chip sector to be transferred to India’s foundries, Lalwani said.

In a shift from Taiwan’s norm, India could send workers on a “government-to-government” basis rather than through private brokers who charge workers a range of fees, according to the memorandum signed in February.

Workers subject to brokerage fees often arrive from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

“Taiwan’s government should adopt fair recruitment standards as soon as possible and ensure all migrant workers don’t need to pay anything in the whole recruitment process,” said Lennon Wang Ying-da, migrant worker policy director for the Taiwanese advocacy group, Serve the People Association.



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