How I Became Taiwanese (While Remaining American)

I am incredibly proud to announce that I am now a Taiwanese citizen! After a year long process (described in excruciating detail below), today I finally received my Taiwanese National Identity Card (身分證). My passport should be ready on Friday. Unlike many others who have done this, thanks to new laws I was able to do so without having to renounce my US citizenship.

Although the process was relatively painless, it was a lot of work and it was often hard to find accurate information. I personally would not have been able to get any of this done without the help of Michael Fahey at Winkler Partners, who offered tremendously helpful advice at every step of the way. In this post I want to pay some of that help forward by sharing my experiences and offering what advice I can for other people who intend to apply for dual citizenship. (Any mistakes in this post are mine alone, so don’t blame Michael!)

Before continuing, I also want to thank Forward Taiwan, an organization that has been advocating for improvements in working visa regulations (ARC), procedures for obtaining permanent residence (APRC), and rights to dual citizenship” since 2013. Anyone interested in embarking on this process should follow their Facebook page for the latest news.

Another site that was useful for me was the Facebook group Foreigners For Taiwan Immigration, legal issues.” These laws are constantly being updated and it is likely that some of the information here will be out of date before anyone finds it on the web. The authoritative source is the official page on naturalization (in Chinese) maintained by the Ministry of the Interior (MOI 內政部戶政司).

UPDATE: This page and all the related materials are now available in English as well!

The privilege of being a dual citizen of Taiwan

I’m fairly radical in my beliefs on immigration. I believe in open borders, think that non-citizens should have voting rights, and, in the case of Taiwan, I think that many more people should be allowed to be dual citizens than current policy allows. While Taiwanese are allowed to freely get American (or any other) citizenship without renouncing their Taiwanese (ROC) passports, the same is not true for most foreigners who become naturalized Taiwanese citizens. I say most” because the Nationality Act (國籍法) was revised in December 2017 to allow for some exceptions. In doing so, it made clear that the Taiwanese state believes that dual citizenship is a privilege, not a right. This is unfortunate because, as Jenna Cody points out, it creates a special class of privileged migrants1 in Taiwan. (Of course, as Jenna herself says, there are already unfair and unnecessary divisions” between foreign workers in Taiwan, such as those between laborers working as caretakers or factory workers, many of who are on short-term contracts and do not qualify even for permanent residence, and those here as teachers or professionals” of some kind or another who do.)

For those who do qualify for permanent residence (an APRC), recent changes to the law have erased many of the most troublesome differences between APRC holders and citizens. But many important differences still remain. What are these differences? Citizens can:

The last issue is important for APRC holders who are politically active. Imagine if you were arrested while engaging in in civil disobedience (such as the Sunflower Occupation). In such a case you could get kicked out of the country, whereas a citizen would not have that worry. I don’t know of anyone who was kicked out for this reason, but it remains a possibility and who knows what the attitude of future governments might be.

One area where there will eventually be more parity between National ID card holders and ARC/APRC holders is the numbering systems used for each kind of ID. There are plans to bring the format of the ARC/APRC numbering system in line with that of the National ID card. But it is entirely possible that some services that people couldn’t access online due to these differences might still be unaccessible. This would be the case, for instance, if those services or discounts are reserved for citizens. There will still be a way to recognize which numbers are ARC/APRC numbers and which are not, and those services which discriminate intentionally can continue to do so if they wish. This might apply to things like senior discounts on rail tickets, but it is hard to know for sure.

Regardless of these differences, the truth remains that many people who qualify for an ARC or APRC will never need citizenship. For me it was an important symbolic act, a matter of making Taiwan my home and being able to say I am Taiwanese” (even if Taiwanese will continue ask me where I really” come from. . .) Given Taiwan’s uncertain international status it seems odd that the government wouldn’t want many more people proclaiming their love for Taiwan in this way, but as I said, the current policy is to treat it as a privilege for a select few, not a right to be handed out to all. As a new citizen I hope to work to change that, but the rest of this post is meant to serve as practical information for people who hope to qualify for dual citizenship, so I’ll leave the political questions aside and focus on the nuts and bolts of who can apply and what is involved in the application process.

Who can be a dual citizen?

The specific changes to the Nationality Act created two different classes of foreigners who could qualify for dual citizenship. The first are people who have made special contributions to the ROC but [don’t] meet the requisites.” This is Article 6 of the Nationality Act. The second group of people are high-level professionals (高級專業人才) in the technological, economic, educational, cultural, art, sports, or other domains.” This is in Article 9.2

My own citizenship was granted under the second category (high-level professionals), and that is what I will be focusing on in this post, but I want to say a few words first about those listed under Article 6. Many of these people are older priests and nuns who in their eighties and have been working in Taiwan for over fifty years. It even made the news when one priest got his citizenship after only” 21 years in Taiwan:

On Wednesday, French Catholic priest Yves Nalet (南耀寧), officially received his Taiwanese citizenship after living in the country for a mere 21 years, far shorter than American Jesuit Father Daniel Ross, 85 and Sister Mary Paul Watts (華淑芳) 85, who lived in Taiwan for 57 and 59 years, respectively before attaining citizenship. Though he attained citizenship in a shorter period of time than many recent predecessors, he too is elderly at the age of 71.

After the Nationality Act was revised in late 2017, the first people to get citizenship were all in this Article 6 category. There are two reasons for this. First, while high-level professionals” need to be verified as such by a special committee (see below) and it took a few months to set up the procedures for such committees, none of that was necessary for people who got dual citizenship under Article 6. Second, many regional governments actively looked for older priests and nuns for which to grant dual citizenship, while high-level professionals” had to apply for it themselves.

Many people who fall under Article 6 have been encouraged to apply for a Plum Blossom’ APRC. For holders of this special card the Taiwanese citizenship application process is greatly streamlined. This means (I believe) that they do not have to be certified as a high-level professional—as described in the next section. Hopefully the later sections on naturalization are still relevant and useful to holders of such Plum Blossom cards.

Two quick notes before I proceed:

So who is a high-level professional”?

One of the hardest things to figure out for most people is whether or not they qualify for dual citizenship under Article 9 of the Nationality Act. First of all, to qualify you must have completed at least five years of residence during which you were in Taiwan for at least 183 days each year. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is knowing whether or not you count as a high-level professional.”

Let’s look at the wording:

They are high-level professionals in the technological, economic, educational, cultural, art, sports, or other domains who have been recommended by the central competent authority . . .

This is pretty vague, and it is very hard to get a definitive answer from anyone regarding the standards. Certainly anyone who has won a Nobel Prize, played in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, been an MVP on the NBA, or won an Oscar would probably have an easy time. But what about those of us who are only moderately successful in our chosen careers? It is frustratingly hard to know. Moreover, because the central competent authority” for each profession is different, there is no single unified set of criteria. Hopefully, as more people apply, a clearer picture will emerge.

Since I am an associate professor in a national university I was told that I could apply, but nobody could say for certain whether or not the work I had done to become an associate professor was enough to qualify me as high-level professional. An assistant professor would have an even harder time and it may not even be worth trying. (Although don’t take my word for it!) Since anyone who is already an associate professor or higher has already prepared a dossier for their promotion (somewhat similar to applying for tenure in the US), that means you have already assembled a folder of materials which can help bolster your case for being a high-level professional.” If you are a full professor, that may be enough, but since I’m not, I was worried that my academic record might not be sufficiently persuasive.

With that in mind, I focused my attention on the next line in Article 9:

whose specialties are deemed to serve the interests of the ROC

I decided that even if my academic record fell short of some unspecified standard, I could make a strong case for my contributions to the interests of Taiwan. In my application I made much of my work with Indigenous Taiwanese, as well as my service as programmer for the Taiwanese International Ethnographic Film Festival. Even though it wasn’t required, I got letters of recommendation related to each of those contributions. (I also included a Chinese-language article that had been written about me, highlighting both aspects of my work.)

Was this overkill? Would just being an associate professor with a few publications and good teaching evaluations be enough? Or was it just enough to push me over the line? I have no way of knowing. All I can say is that it was important to me, and I put everything I had into making sure that I passed the evaluation. It worked, but it is entirely possible that I could have made do with much less. I encourage people who feel strongly about becoming citizens, but who are worried about their CV, to give it a try anyway. The worst that can happen is that they’ll say no.” You can always re-apply again later on. If you do get it, please come back and share your experiences in the comment section below!

In the next section I will talk about the nuts and bolts of the application process before going on to talk about the naturalization process itself after that.

Doing the paperwork

The first step is to fill out the application for certification as a high-level professional (高級專業人才申請推薦理由書) to the central competent authority” according to your profession. Assuming you are in education, like me, then this authority is the Ministry of Education (MOE, 教育部). Whatever authority you are dealing with, call and speak to them before proceeding any further. (The MOI maintains a contact list of people at each of the various agencies. ) They will be able to give you the most up-to-date information on the relevant procedures and perhaps even give you a sense as to whether or not you qualify.

If you are applying to the MOE it is important to know that you can’t just send things directly to the MOE. You need to figure out your own school’s procedures for sending out the application form. Since I was the first one from my university to do so, there were no procedures in place. In the end we decided to go through the school’s existing Faculty Evaluation Committee (教評會) procedures. Because related committees already exist at every level of the school administration, and because they already meet regularly each semester, it was relatively easy to have my application materials added to the agenda for the next meeting. You will need to have the application approved at the department, college, and university levels before the school can send things on to the MOE.

My application file included a cover letter, my CV, copies of awards, certificates, teaching evaluations, journal articles, etc. as well as the supplementary materials I mentioned above. The whole thing was nearly fifty pages. It took several weeks to get everything together, since I am not good about saving things like certificates for participating in various events.3 Once assembled, the application went through the school review fairly quickly. After it got to the MOE, however, they asked me to make some changes. Most important for them was to create a kind of bullet-point summary of my cover letter in the form itself, rather than just saying see attached” and directing people to the letter. I saw that these bullet points were copied on several other forms later, so put some work into getting this right. (And best to do it in Chinese.)

I started the process in September of 2018, and they accepted the application for review in January of 2019. I then got word that my application had been approved by the MOE in March 2019. With that in hand, I was now ready to begin the naturalization process, which I will describe in the next section. As far as I know, there is no deadline for applying for naturalization once you have been certified as a high-level professional, but it is probably best not to sit on things too long. If nothing else, you never know if the government might change, resulting in a completely new set of rules and procedures!

Naturalizing as a Taiwanese Citizen

In this section I will discuss the process for naturalizing as a Taiwanese citizen. This is for people who have already been certified as high-level professionals. It might also be good for those who received a Plum Blossom’ APRC, but I’m not sure. (Because they have tried to streamline the naturalization process for people in this category, please don’t rely on what I say here if you haven’t been certified but still want to get naturalized.) Since the policy was first implemented they have tried to streamline the process even further, to speed it up. (I know that one of the first people to get dual citizenship this way had to wait an additional year for her National ID card, compared with what I experienced.) Still, it still requires a lot of patience! There are a lot of documents that you need to put together and it is likely you will have to make multiple trips to each agency before things are approved.

Step 1: Identify Your Household Registration Office

From here on in, most of your interactions will be with your local Household Registration Office (戶政事務所). You can find yours via the links on this page. In most big cities there will be one staff member whose job it is to handle applicants who are seeking to naturalize. It might be good to go and meet that person before doing anything else. The laws are constantly changing and the information on this page might soon be out of date, but that person will be able to give you the information you need.

Step 2: Criminal Record Check

For many people the item that will take the longest and be the most troublesome will be getting your Criminal Record Check (良民證 or proof of your good name). For American citizens this means going through the FBI. Because the document you get is only good for a limited amount of time, you need to complete the rest of your steps shortly after this comes through. Otherwise you will have to get it processed again! Information for US citizens getting this document can be found on the AIT website. But I will tell you what I had to do below.

The first step is to go to the National Immigration Agency (內政部移民署) office in Taipei and get a fingerprint card made. You should print that out first and take it with you. Also, fill it out first, as it will be hard to do anything after it is smudged with fingerprint ink.

Second, go to the FBI website for an Electronic Departmental Order (eDO) and fill that out.4

Third, do not have the documents sent back to Taiwan directly! Instead, have the FBI mail the completed documents to TECRO in DC. Then, when submitting the documents to the FBI, simultaneously follow the instructions for TECROs Document Authentication Service. Although there is an English version of this page, I was told that the Chinese version was more accurate, easier to follow, and should be considered authoritative.5

Fourth, the AIT page says that you may then need to have it translated into Chinese, and have that translation notarized by a Taiwan public notary.” I did this, but I’m not sure it was actually necessary. It may be possible to skip this step, but please check with someone else before doing so!

Fifth, either way you have to get the FBI documents already authenticated by TECRO in DC authenticated againby the Bureau of Consular Affairs (外交部領事事務局) in Taipei. They call the process (文件複驗)” and there is a special desk for it in the Taipei office. This took a week.

Between when you submit the request for FBI documents and you get your final citizenship papers, it is probably a good idea not to leave the country. It might be possible, but I’ve heard conflicting information. I would strongly advise checking this yourself, as you don’t want to have to go back to step one and start this process all over again!

If the Taiwanese government wanted to do one thing to make it easier for people to become Taiwanese citizens it would be getting this process streamlined. When I got my APRC I only needed a local Taiwanese police background check, not an FBI check. (I’d already done that once when I got my initial ARC.) I don’t know why that shouldn’t be sufficient for citizenship as well?

The rest of the steps…

At this point I would go with whatever the person at the household registration office (HRO) tells you. There are some documents online detailing what you need, such as 自願歸化(一覽表) and 外國人或無國籍人曾在中華民國領域內合法居留繼續10年以上(一覽表)on this page. But in practice the person at the HRO made a list for me and I just followed that.

Some of the things you will be asked to provide are simple, like proof of address, copies of your passport, ID photos (make sure they are the right format), cashier’s checks from your bank to pay for everything, registered return envelopes” (掛號回郵信封), etc. Most of this is pretty straight forward, but there are four things that came up that deserve special mention.

The first was proof of Chinese ability. I had to show that I’d received 200 hours of Chinese instruction or else I would have had to take a test. (The fact that I lecture in Chinese for over 300 hours each year, going on 14 years, is somehow irrelevant…) Luckily I was able to get a letter from the school where I studied Chinese back in 1997. It took some phone calls and back and forth, but eventually this was accepted. I’m glad, because the test looked very annoying. (It seems that this guide for taking the test is out of date. If you find more recent information please let me know!)

The second was a medical checkup. There are only a few hospitals set up to give health checks for foreigners and I think you have to go to one of these. Here are some instructions from 2017 which are a pretty accurate description of what I had to do.

Third, the person at the HRO wanted to have all the documents I had submitted for my certification as a high-level professional. Fortunately I had scanned my application documents and had a PDF that I was easily able to produce. Otherwise it could have meant spending another week or two trying to recreate my original application package with all the supplementary documents! (One thing I’ve learned from all of this is that there is a lot of redundancy in the Taiwanese bureaucracy.)

I submitted my documents to the HRO on May 22, but there were some delays that led to my documents only being sent off from the HRO on the 29th. On June 26th I got a call letting me know that my application had been approved. There was even an article in the paper. But later I learned that this was just re-confirming my status as a special foreign professional. My actually naturalization application wouldn’t be approved until August 22nd.

This brings me to the forth item. To complete the process of getting my National ID card I needed to complete my household registration. To do that I need proof that my landlord paid taxes on the leased apartment last year (「108年度的房屋稅單」正本). I know that some foreigners in Taiwan live in apartments for which their landlords do not pay taxes. Some landlords even tell potential renters that they list the apartment as an official residence. If you rent such an apartment it will be a major obstacle in applying for residence. Note that even if your landlord is OK with you listing the apartment as your official residence, they might not know that they will be expected to hand over their tax document, so be sure to warn them before you start the process! (There are alternative ways of proving your residence if they don’t want to do so, but it is somewhat more troublesome.)

Final notes

Now that I’ve got my National ID card, I still have to do the following:

First, I need to get my wife listed on my household registry. She now qualifies for an APRC, and we will have to apply for that. She would have qualified for one anyway, since I’ve had my own APRC for five years, but the process is a bit different since she is now married to a citizen. (Even though I am allowed to be a dual citizen, the same rights will not be conferred to her. She could possibly apply on her own, but right now the requirements for a filmmaker to get certified as a high-level professional seem impossibly difficult.)

Second, I need to get my Taiwanese passport. The HRO helped me do some of the paperwork. I already went and filed this at the Bureau of Consular Affairs. They said it should be ready by Friday afternoon.

Third, the HRO also helped me apply for a new health insurance card. That should come in the mail within a few days. (I had to pay NT$400 at the 7-11.)

Finally, I also need to update my driver’s license, bank accounts, university employment contract, and a number of other documents with my new status. It is hard to know if any of these things will pose any special issues. If they do, I will come back and update this post accordingly.

This post is just a record of my own experience and is not meant to be definitive. I won’t be updating it every time the law changes, but I do hope anyone who has different experiences or additional information to add will do so in the comments. I hope many more people will apply! Good luck.

UPDATE: I wrote a followup post Notes for A New Citizen: Registering Your Marriage

  1. I hate the term expat.”

  2. I’m over simplifying here. Article 9 actually has a sub-section that refers back to Article 6, as well as one for the high level professionals. Please look at the actual act to see how it is all laid out. I’m trying to keep things from getting overly technical here…

  3. To me they seem like the participation awards they give kids in Summer Camp, but they are actually very important in Taiwan.

  4. This is new. I did it the old (snail mail) way, using the information on the Identity History Summary Checks page. This took over six weeks, compared to just five days for an eDO (counting from when they receive the fingerprint card from Taiwan). Although I didn’t do an eDO, I know of others who did and it seems to work just fine.

  5. Small things like the amount of money to include for processing and shipping might change, so be sure to contact TECRO and make sure you have the absolute latest information before doing anything. (Also, if they know to expect your documents it will help speed up processing.)