back to the Immigration Detention Monitor

10 April 2020 – Taiwan, Province of China

Annabelle Timsit,
Annabelle Timsit, "The China-Taiwan conflict is disrupting the WHO’s fight against Covid-19," Quartz, 9 April 2020,

The government has taken extraordinary measures to contain and combat the COVID-19 pandemic, having started testing people for the virus in January when the first case was reported. As of 7 April, there were 376 cases and five deaths (as the UN does not recognize it as a sovereign state, the WHO does not publish specific data on it).

However, these measures do not seem to have been extended to immigration detention. According to New Bloom journalist Brian Hioe, “special measures taken to safeguard the health of immigration detainees or other detainees in response to the COVID-19 crisis seem to be lacking.” Since the number of cases in Taiwan remains limited, the government has not undertaken mass testing; accordingly, there appears to be no systematic testing in immigration detention centres.

According to official statistics, there are an estimated 50,000 undocumented migrant workers, of whom approximately 290 are in immigration detention. On 27 February, it was reported that the 32nd person to contract the virus was an undocumented migrant care worker from Indonesia. Subsequently, the deputy director-general of the Ministry of Labour’s Workforce Development Agency said that the government would begin checking the employment or residency status of migrant workers who accompany their employers to seek care at hospitals, including whether workers had overstayed their visas or held invalid residency permits. The Ministry of Labour also issued a press release stating that it would work with the National Policy Agency, the Military Police Command, the Coast Guard and similar institutions to increase the government’s capacity to investigate and conduct arrests of undocumented migrant workers. It added that it would continue to offer a reward to members of the public who report on suspected violations of the Employment Service Act by undocumented migrant workers. The government’s stated objective in issuing this press release was to close the “loophole” of virus prevention posed by the situation of undocumented workers. Civil society groups quickly moved to criticise the government’s policies for deterring undocumented migrant workers from seeking medical attention and pushing an already-marginalized group further into the shadows during a global health crisis.

On 1 March, in response to public backlash, the Ministry of Labour indicated that it would not investigate the immigration status of migrant workers seeking medical care. The Minister of Health and Welfare and head of the Central Epidemic Command Centre Chen Shih-chung and Minister Without Portfolio Lin Wan-i reiterated this policy on 2 March. According to a report by Taipei Times, Chen said: “I disagree with the need to strengthen reporting of undocumented workers at present. For hospitals, it does not matter if one is a documented or undocumented migrant worker or a family member of a patient. What matters to us is whether they have any questionable travel history, or illnesses, and if they know how to look after the patient.” Chen also highlighted that any crackdown on undocumented migrant care workers may create an “acute shortage” of care workers available to look after patients. Nonetheless, according to CNA English News, “if a member of the general public makes a report on an undocumented migrant worker, the MOL will still dispatch the local government to investigate, although deportation will be up to the NIA.”

On the topic of wider protections for migrant workers, the deputy director of the Ministry of Labour Cross-Border Workforce Management Division, said: “[T]he abolition of fines, re-entry bans and restoration of documented status needs revision of the current laws, which require consensus in society.” A dozen civil society groups have initiated a petition to call on the government to institute an amnesty on deportations for undocumented workers in order to ensure effective access to healthcare for all, and to stop the spread of the virus.

On 21 March, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release stating that there will be an automatic 30-day visa extension for non-citizens who arrived on or before March 21 with a visa waiver, visitor visa, or landing visa. This policy specifically excludes foreign nationals who have overstayed their visas. On 20 March, the National Immigration Agency announced the expansion of an existing voluntary departure scheme for undocumented migrants: “To overstayers who turn themselves in during the designated period of this program [1 April to 30 June], penalty relieves including no detention, no entry ban and a minimum fine of NTD 2,000 (USD66.52).” The Director of the NIA said: “The purpose of this program is to encourage overstayers to turn themselves in so the Agency can help them return home safely.” The NIA also said: “[O]nce the pandemic of COVID-19 eases, the Agency will strengthen enforcement and launch nation-wide sweeps against overstaying population.”

Officials implemented a ban on entry by foreign nationals on March 19. Exempted categories include those holding alien resident certificates; diplomatic identification cards; special business permits; or other special permits.