Migrant rights groups call for MOE to step up student protections

Taipei, Several dozen people led by a coalition of migrant rights groups demanded on Monday that the Ministry of Education (MOE) step up protections for foreign students, in the wake of several reports of workrelated abuse and exploitation over the past year.

Chen Jungjou , an official with the Taiwan International Workers' Association (TIWA), presented a set of demands to the MOE, to prevent foreign students from being exploited as cheap labor, at a rally outside the Executive Yuan.

One of the demands is for the MOE to require all schools that accept foreign students to translate relevant information into the students' native language and check whether any false information is used to boost student enrollment, she said.

Another is for the MOE to investigate if any foreign students in Taiwan are being made to work against their will by schools or labor brokers who have confiscated their documents or passports, she said, adding that the ministry also needs to check if any students are being subjected to questionable monetary deductions and forced labor.

Furthermore, the MOE needs to implement a direct governmenttogovernment scheme to recruit students from New Southbound Policy (NSP) target countries in order to stop third parties making a profit by collecting brokerage or commission fees from students, Chen said.

Initiated by President Tsai Ingwen in 2016, the NSP aims to strengthen Taiwan's ties with the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, along with Australia, New Zealand, India and other South Asian nations.

In addition, the MOE and the Ministry of Labor should work together to establish a mechanism where they can monitor and check the conditions and requirements followed in institutions where foreign students enroll and conduct their internships so any illegal practices can be punished accordingly, Chen said.

The demands were made in the wake of recent media reports on foreign students, especially those from NSP target countries being exploited as cheap labor in Taiwanese factories, Chen said.

The series of cases started with media reports in November last year of Sri Lankan students enrolled at the University of Kang Ning (UKN) in Tainan who were forced to work illegally in a food processing plant in Taoyuan.

Other cases included Filipino students enrolled in Yu Da University of Science and Technology (YDUST) in Miaoli who were reported in March to have been forced to work excessive work hours by their labor agency during their work/study program.

The most recent case was in June when students from Indonesia studying at Changhua County's Chienkuo Technology University (CTU) were reportedly forced to work excessive hours and had their passports confiscated by a labor broker.

In response to the demands made Monday, the MOE released a statement the same day saying the ministry will supervise schools and require them to personally send school staff members to the country where students are recruited.

In addition, documents and information related to enrollment need to be accessible in Chinese, English and the official language of the country where the student is being recruited, the ministry statement said, adding that the information must also be included on the school's website.

The MOE will also supervise future enrollment of foreign students to ensure it is undertaken between the students, parents or teachers and the school in Taiwan, without the involvement of labor brokerages or any advertisements claiming students can work to pay off their tuition fees, the statement said.

The ministry also encourages foreign students to make use of the Network for International Student Advisors telephone hotline, which provides assistance in Chinese, English, Indonesian and Vietnamese to students that need help, the MOE said.

Furthermore, the MOE will invite other ministries and agencies to create a special interministerial team to study how to make the environment better for foreign students during their time at colleges in Taiwan, the statement said.

Meanwhile, the ministry also said in the statement that UKN, YDUST, CTU have been banned from accepting future foreign students.

TIWA, founded in 1999, is one of the first nongovernment organizations to work for the rights of foreign spouses and migrant workers, its website said, adding that it promotes the empowerment of migrants and challenges the negative stereotypes of Southeast Asians in Taiwan.

Other organizations that also took part in the rally Monday, included Caritas Taiwan, Hope Workers' Center, and Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel