Tuesday, May 07, 2013

What are foreigners doing in Taiwan?

5/07/2013 Taiwan Explorer
Yao Ming says: "Foreigners, welcome to Taiwan. I hope you can enjoy Taiwan's tranquility."

While doing research for an upcoming post I found an excel file that lists all the data related to foreigners in Taiwan and their employment. If you ever wanted to know what are foreigners actually doing in Taiwan since 1996, this post will be a great resource for you. The file can be found on the website of the Ministry of Interior of the ROC, here is a direct link for you to download and check it out for yourself (you can click on the photo on the left to see how the file looks like). It's a comprehensive database of foreigners in Taiwan sorted by year, occupation and nationality. It's not a perfect resource, but good enough to highlight certain trends and phenomena.


Stereotypes about what foreigners are doing in Taiwan

The main reason that got me interested in this topic is the fact that "What do you do in Taiwan?" is one of the most common questions I get asked by Taiwanese. And not only that, a lot of them assume that I was American and worked here as an English teacher just because I am white. How many times have I heard a kid say something like "英文老師!" ("English teacher!") and pointing at me. It doesn't personally bother me, but it's really common and I wanted to get to know more. It lead me to a question: Do these preconceptions really have a good reason to exist in 2013? Let's analyze some data from the file and try to get a better understanding of foreigners in Taiwan.

My research criteria

I only compared foreign nationals of "15 Years & Over", while those "Under 15 years" were not included, because I assume they can't be legally working. I then took the most common occupations which were: Business, Engineer, Teacher, Missionary, Laborer, Student, and compared their numbers. All the rest was filed under Others, because the numbers were too small, or there was no specific data (my "Others" also includes unemployed and housekeepers). Let me stress that I was constrained by the data, which sometimes seems pretty arbitrary. I have no idea why occupations like Accountant were added for example, because the numbers were very low. Another particularity are nationals of the People's Republic of China (commonly known as China) which are not included in this database, because the government of the Republic of China (commonly known as Taiwan) doesn't consider them "foreign nationals" (read an explanation for this here). So when I use the terms "foreigners" or "foreign residents" in this post I mean them as defined by the laws of the Republic of China. There are also countries that I hoped would be included in the database such as South Africa, Russia, Brazil, and the Latin American allies of the ROC, but unfortunately they weren't. Nevertheless, the resource is still very comprehensive, so I decided to simplify it for my readers and highlight those parts that might be of most interest.

Foreigners in Taiwan by region, 2012

Let's first get a general idea about where most foreigners in Taiwan (that are over 15 years old) come from. This is a chart that divides them into their regions of origin:

Click here to enlarge.

It's very obvious that most foreign residents come from Southeast Asia. Together with East Asia (South Korea and Japan) they make up over 95% of all foreign residents in Taiwan. In contrast, foreigners from countries with a majority of white population (North America, Europe, Australia) make less than 4% of all foreigners in Taiwan. The difference is significant.

Foreigners in Taiwan by nationality and occupation, 2012

Now let's see the most crucial data about foreigners in Taiwan, divided by nationality and occupation. I wanted to compare the most recent data, so I took the numbers from 2012 and made this overview and some charts further below.

I compared foreigners from all the countries that were listed in the file.

Click here to enlarge.

A different classification

I took the same data as above and sorted it in a different way: By culture/language, East vs. West, and by region. The red font highlights the highest number. Keep in mind that the data under the group "Teacher" can mean any teacher, not only English teacher, despite that being the biggest group of all foreign teachers in Taiwan.


After reviewing the data, here are some conclusions:

- Most foreign businessmen and engineers come from Japan.
- Most foreign teachers and missionaries come from North America.
- Most foreign laborers come from South East Asia, particularly Indonesia.
- Most foreign students come from South East Asia, particularly Malaysia.
- Most North Americans in Taiwan are teachers.
- Most South East Asians in Taiwan are working in factories.
- Continental Europeans and East Asians are commonly businessmen and students.
- Almost half of the Indians in Taiwan are students.
- Contrary to a popular belief, Indians do not dominate the IT sector as engineers.
- There are no laborers from Western countries.
- Most foreign engineers in Taiwan come from Asian countries.
- The biggest group of French in Taiwan are related to business.
- The least number of teachers and missionaries come from Northern Europe.

These are just some of the things I found interesting, but I'm sure there are many other particularities that could be highlighted from this data as well.

How many English teachers are there in Taiwan?

Answering this question based on the data I found is impossible, because "English teachers" are not specifically listed, instead the general term "Teachers" is used, which can mean any kind of teacher. There is other data on foreign English teachers in Taiwan like this one, but I'm not sure how accurate it is, because I can't find the source file. It shows the number as much higher than what I found in my source. Let me stress again: It's not really about the accuracy of every number, it's more about observing trends. Below is an overview of the number of foreign teachers in Taiwan that come from the 4 key Anglophone countries. Data on countries like South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand is not included here, it's filed under "Others" in the charts above, I assume it's because the numbers are too low. Here's the overview:


After reviewing the data, here are some conclusions:

- Most teachers come from USA followed by Canada, UK and Australia
- The peak number of foreign teachers from these countries was reached in 2004
- In 2004 there were more teachers from Canada in Taiwan than there were from the US
- The number of teachers from these countries was in decline between 2004 and 2008
- Since 2009 the number is on the rise again soon to reach the level of 2004
- The majority of people in these countries are white/caucasian
- Roughly 3/4 of all teachers from these countries are male

I could now speculate about the number of foreign English teachers, but I won't do that (also because there are many working here illegally, and I'm not sure how high their number currently is). In Taiwan it's commonly believed that most of them are white males from North America (among other reasons also because the market demands this specific type), and that is also reflected in this data which happens to focus on teachers in general (and I believe English teachers is probably the biggest sub-group of all groups). I think to most foreigners in Taiwan these numbers won't be a surprise, as we can see every day who's doing what here, but I hope that those foreigners who have not yet been in Taiwan and perhaps plan to come, this post will serve as a good reference.

Check also my related posts:

How to get a job in Taiwan?
Working in a Taiwanese IT company
Interracial relationships in Taiwan