“They had to stand for 10 hours and package 30,000 contact lenses”
The decision comes in response to Taiwanese legislator Ko Chih-en’s revelation to the Legislative Yuan’s Education and Culture Committee that six universities collaborated with employment agencies to recruit students to work in contact lenses factories under the New Southbound Policy.
“They had to stand for 10 hours and package 30,000 contact lenses every day and were banned from taking any leave,” she said.
“When students told the school about their work, it replied that they ‘must help the company so that the company can help the school’.”
International students are permitted to work up to 20-hours per week during their studies in Taiwan, but according to Ko, the students worked double their permitted hours and only studied two days per week.
She added many of the students were Muslim but were often given pork as part of their meals and lived in subpar dormitories.
“The issue of students being tricked into overworking should be considered exceptional”
In her address to the committee, Ko alleged that there was an ongoing problem of employment agencies luring international students into applying for internship programs.
She said students were promised a monthly salary of NT$20,000 plus free accommodation and meals, only to arrive in Taiwan and be told they would need to pay NT$40,000 per semester for their studies and living costs.
“This is not an isolated case, but a reoccurring pattern that shows how schools, employment agencies and companies are taking advantage of the New Southbound Policy internship,” she said.
The revelations, which join a story from late 2018 of Sri Lankan students being forced to work in a slaughterhouse, cast doubt on the oversight of the NSP, which aims to increase Taiwan’s Asia-Pacific connections through education and internships.
According to reports, several Taiwanese employment agencies have begun bragging about the superiority of international students over other migrant workers, and Taipei Times reported acting education minister Yao Leeh-ter acknowledged a need to review the internships program of the NCP.
While a concern, Taiwanese educators have moved to reassure the incidences are isolated, and the government has promised to investigate the universities involved fully.
“The issue of students being tricked into overworking should be considered exceptional in the context of Taiwan higher education,” Asia University Taiwan’s dean of International College Yinghuei Chen said.
“So far Asia University’s partners, especially partners in Indonesia have not expressed any concerns in this regard.”
“This is not an isolated case, but a reoccurring pattern”
Chen told The PIE News that although he expected there would be short-term negative effects on the number of Indonesian students coming to Taiwan, he did not believe it would jeopardise the future of the NSP.
“The current partnership between Taiwan and Indonesia in terms of higher education is a win-win situation, and I see no reason why this will not continue, he said.
“Opening up policy for international students will continue as it will do good for both Taiwan and other countries, given Taiwan has a high demand for skilled workers for both the manufacturing and service sectors. Market needs will have the final say in this matter.”
In 2018, Taiwan announced lower restrictions on post-study work for NSP countries in a bid to address skills shortages and a declining population.