My story as an ESL human trafficking victim in Taiwan

My first year in Taiwan made me a victim of human trafficking. I am thankful that my story is not anywhere near as terrible as others. But, I understand the damage that human trafficking does to people, crippling their lives for years. After ten years, I’m still at a disadvantage because Taiwan did not protect my rights as a foreigner.

Foreigners have limited rights when in another country. That is good, in a way. But, it puts foreigners at a disadvantage, making foreigners easy for dishonest people to take advantage of foreigners. Employers know about these disadvantages and game the system to turn foreigners into partial slaves. That happened to me. Though it was very mild, I am a victim of human trafficking.

But, then I discovered something else even more shocking. I’ll explain that after I tell my story.

In Taiwan, I was the foreigner. My first two bosses tried to control me by seizing my legally-required paperwork; my second boss succeeded. The boss could lie about me and the government would blame me. In some ways, they still do. I’m thrilled for the friendships and the positive difference I can make through them, but even after ten years, I am still at a disadvantage, yet Taiwan’s government does nothing to right the wrong they allowed. I’m not the only one. That’s why I’ve decided to tell my story.

Here’s my story that I gave to Congress in October, 2018, word-for-word…

When I came to Taiwan, my first boss refused to give me my work permit. I manged to obtain it and sneaked it out of the ESL school by stuffing it up into my Donald Trump tie—yes, I came to Taiwan with a pink “Trump” tie. I literally went to my apartment and cried because no one in Taiwan would help me. My boss had even demanded, “Give me your passport now.” Of course, I refused.

That boss didn’t last because of too many boundaries being crossed that employers shouldn’t cross. Taiwan’s government had no devices in place to protect me, so I quit, following a complex legal procedure that I read about online.

My next boss absolutely refused to give me my work permit. When I asked for it, the boss said, “No, you don’t get to have it.” I called Taiwan’s Immigration office and told them that my employer refused to give me my work permit. The officer said, “They have to!” then hung up the phone. There was no follow-up nor any device in place for Taiwan to enforce its own law to protect my rights.

I continued working for that employer, though I quickly got caught up in a legal incident because the employer had apparently lied about my employment details without my knowing. There was no need to lie and I was surprised that lying was my employer’s first preference. After being threatened by the boss, I felt my life was in danger if I didn’t lie to the government. Taiwan’s government wanted to punish me for a lie I had no part in. Later, I informed Taiwan’s government about the truth and tried to resign. Taiwan offered no official channel for me to resign through, I even went to a police station twice in order to resign; they even summoned the boss, but did nothing when the boss arrived—twice. I had successfully followed the complex resignation procedure before, but my boss continued to lie and Taiwan’s government offered no aid.

When my boss falsely reported me as “MIA”, though I had been to a police station to resign twice, Taiwan’s government summoned me to a mediated meeting to attempt to settle some dispute between myself and my employer. This I actually appreciated, the government’s attempt to solve a matter privately, having wisdom the US can learn from. Tainan County’s Labor Department hired a mediator, a friend accompanied me, then something amazing happened! After three hours of deliberation, my employer signed an agreement to pay me and accept my resignation. Normally, such meetings ended after forty minutes and always resulted in some kind of legal action. My case was the very first ever where the government-hired mediator succeeded in resolving a conflict privately! They had successfully negotiated peace between a foreign employee and the employer for the first time! I was honored to have been a part of Taiwan’s government proving to itself that it was able to negotiate peace in foreign matters.

But, that was only the beginning of a difficult decade. Hearsay has it that this boss is a kind of “ESL mafia boss”. The situation is complicated and I have written about both the problem and a solution, in English and Chinese, at one of my websites. The city I lived in, Tainan, has a natural market of many small ESL schools, offering, in my experience, say about eight hours for a native-speaking ESL teacher per week. But, the Labor Department still requires to this day that an ESL teacher work no less than fourteen hours per week at the same address—not even a different address owned by the same employer! This effectively creates a kind of “Prohibition” in Taiwan’s ESL world, crafting an otherwise unnecessary black market for ESL. The worst was, as I was told by informed people, that this recent employer was the “mafia boss” of that black market. It didn’t matter where I applied. I couldn’t get another ESL job.

But, I had gone to Taiwan in order to learn from Asia and help make the United States more informed about other countries. I wouldn’t give up so easily. I stayed home and prayed. Money slowly came in. I would get a small job here or there. I never overstayed my visa—NOT ONCE! It’s a miracle, but ten years later I’m still here. I tried telling Taiwan’s government about the problem since May 2015. I even met with a legislator’s aide. But, Taiwan’s government does not like to listen to its own people, let alone some outside foreigner who didn’t pass the legislator’s license exam.

That wasn’t the end of my horror story. It went on…

I stuck with Taiwan, even while the government mistreated me, then something happened by luck. I unintentionally met a loop-hole requirement that would allow me to become a Taiwanese permanent resident, and thus a dual citizen. That would make it easier to live in Taiwan and continue to learn about the world, especially to help the good Taiwanese who can’t get access to good English. I won’t bore you with the details here, but I have told the full story, including witnesses and evidence, to both Taiwan’s government and US Congress.

Taiwan rejected my application. After four months of letters, I received an official letter from Taiwan’s government attempting to defend their decision by outlining the steps they took in their process—but that letter actually proves that Taiwan’s bureaucracy completely botched my application. From their explanation, it appears that they didn’t even read my application. They even misspelled my name on the letter they sent to defend themselves!

The part I still struggle to believe is that they weren’t embarrassed when I pointed this out because, for them, half-baked work is their daily routine.

A lawsuit would do no good because the typical judge in Taiwan would rule, “Jesse is right,” and that’s it! I would still need to start the application process from the beginning, with zero accountability for the government to do a better job and process it correctly. So, there’s no point.

Things are that bad.

But, I love Taiwan, so I wanted them to have a second chance to do the right thing.

I went to Taiwan’s government to explain the situation to them. I wanted to warn them about what Americans call “bad optics”. This really looks bad, especially with Taiwan wanting to buy US military weapons and get help with military defense against China. But, the office workers didn’t care. They didn’t even try to pretend to care.

They stonewalled for 25 minutes on the phone while I stood in the lobby, then finally sent a desk worker with “only 20 minutes” to talk. She wasted time with trivial questions, then said, “You may apply again.” The remainder of that short conversation was the last straw…

“You require that I take an X-Ray every time I apply,” I said. “Review my application first, then require the X-Ray after you approve everything else.”

“We don’t require an X-Ray,” she scolded.

“Yes, your application requires a medical exam and that exam requires an X-Ray,” I explained.

Then, she held up her phone, showing the same legal requirement I had just explained, which she had just denied. She said, “That’s just the law! We must obey the law!”

“Even if it harms my health?” I asked. “You can’t require an X-Ray every few months, just so I can keep applying again and again.”

She was angry that I had taken her time, said she would pass on what I said, then prematurely ended the conversation because her boss called to make sure she didn’t hear the rest of what I had to say.

If you find this unbelievable, then you know how I have felt for the past ten years. This happens every day with Taiwan’s government. Any Taiwanese can tell you.

Worse, the doctors in the X-Ray lab don’t give any led belt to cover genitals or vital organs. The whole body is exposed to X-Rays and the government can require this up to four times per year, without any medical cause. I know because I’ve been required to have at least six X-Rays, all without cause, all with a clean bill of health. Yet, Taiwan is actively seeking “observer status” in the World Health Organization!

The officers I talked with at Taiwan’s Immigration headquarters in Taipei didn’t even pretend to care, even for the sake of “good optics”.

Ten years ago, a few bad apples in Taiwan’s human trafficking ESL cartel tried to oppress an American. I had hoped to see progress. But, in ten years, Taiwan’s government hasn’t changed.

Taiwan’s government could help many ways, if they wanted to…

One way is by giving ESL teachers and other foreign employees their work permits directly. I’ve made the suggestion many times in the last ten years. But, Taiwan’s government insists on giving work permits to the employer, blindly expecting the employer to give the work permit to the foreign employees, then punishing the foreign employees if they don’t have their work permits.

Another way is to remove the “one-address” requirement and offer an “ESL License” to teachers who meet the other requirements for teaching ESL in a school. The teacher would then report addresses to the government.

Taiwan has other labor laws relating to the “one-address” law which seriously injure ESL markets, creating “black market ESL” pockets. It gets somewhat complex, but if you’re interested in “the devil in the details”, I explained in this podcast episode last year: ESL Black Market in Taiwan 14-666. Addressing this would also help a lot, and I offer solutions in the podcast video.

I’ve discussed all of these solutions with a Taiwanese legislator’s aide and recommended it to US Congress. But, after ten years, Taiwan’s government won’t change, no matter how obvious the need and how easy the solution.

Another problem is racism. Asian-Americans can’t get ESL jobs in Taiwan, as TADIT’s blog pointed out long ago at Many Taiwanese think that an “Asian face” means a person couldn’t possibly know English correctly; they think only a “White face” can speak good English.

Moreover, Black people have difficulty getting ESL jobs, largely for the same prejudice, but also because traditional Han-Chinese thinking believes that black skin means someone is cursed. This makes it nearly impossible for ESL schools to hire Black people, even if they are highly qualified.

Not all Taiwanese are racist; the younger generation treats people quite fairly. But, mainstream ESL schools and the government defend the racists. Despite the baselessness of old Taiwanese racism, Taiwan’s government has done nothing to alert the public of the truth that Asian-Americans and Black people can teach excellent ESL, nor will the government defend ESL schools who do.

As the world is changing, learning English is a vital skill for Taiwanese. Since Taiwan’s ESL situation is such a disaster, the talented, young Taiwanese suffer because they can’t get access to good English. As a result, many people in Taiwan remain prejudice, they restrict Americans of all skin colors from helping, and the children of Taiwan suffer.

This was the second shock that hit me, which I mentioned very early in this article. Many Taiwanese are victims of human trafficking in their own country—some employers demanding seven-day work weeks.

One Taiwanese friend worked as a photographer for a wedding contractor. The company charged $600 USD for the wedding photos, my friend did all the work start to finish, including photo retouching, and the employer only paid him under $20 USD for the entire contract and kept the rest. He couldn’t go elsewhere because that was the market standard in Taiwan.

Fortunately, Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-Wen, enacted labor laws that required days off and somewhat fair pay for Taiwanese employees. Seven-day work weeks are gone—at least they’re supposed to be. But, she has only had a short time as Taiwan’s president to undo many long standing abuses against Taiwan’s workforce. So, it only makes sense that an American trying to teach ESL in that environment would be at risk.

Friends ask me why I stayed. “They don’t like you,” I’m always told. “They don’t like anybody. Just accept it and move on.” I don’t complain about my horror story to Taiwanese friends. I consciously chose to experience this horror story so I could see what life was really like in Taiwan. I’m not happy that this happens, but I’m happy that this happened to me because now I know. And now, conscience compels me to make sure that America knows.

Taiwan’s government needs to make right their wrongdoings of the past. Had I not been a victim of human trafficking my first year, I would have likely been able to earn permanent residency by now. A decade of my life is gone. This has happened to many people other than myself. No small change to Taiwan’s ESL-related laws can repair their damaged reputation.

Not only for myself, but for all foreigners who would qualify to teach ESL in Taiwan, if they were in Taiwan five years in the past, they should be granted permanent residency, which can lead to citizenship in Taiwan, without further requirements, of course requiring a medical test for high-risk diseases. That would repair Taiwan’s reputation with those ESL teachers who were affected, but it would also bring more English speakers into Taiwan and allow them to help more Taiwanese learn English. This would not only be justice for foreigners, more importantly it would bring justice to Taiwan’s own people.

By standing up for myself, this will shed light on a dark situation and help all Taiwanese people.

Many good Taiwanese have been beaten down. They’ve tried everything. It’s like a horror movie where they answer is not in the room. They believe no one can make a difference. But, Americans know better. I hope you can help give hope to the Taiwanese by showing the world that we can make a difference and end injustice.

After living ten years in Taiwan, I finally had the real, true experience that the Taiwanese live with every day. I can’t tell this story to many friends in Taiwan because it’s all too normal for them. They tell me, “That’s how our government treats everybody. They just don’t care. They just won’t change.”

The Taiwanese are good people, and some in their government are too, I know. But, the problem runs deep. Voting and protests don’t make a difference because their swamp is too big and too old. Taiwan’s situation can only change with American help. We can’t expect governments to drain over night, but we can make laws that encourage transparency and accountability between trade partners.

America needs to be a friend to Taiwan. They have a growing, adolescent democracy and we must stand with them through the natural mistakes of growing up. As part of that, helping Taiwan includes helping Taiwan to treat American’s with respect. If US Congress requires Taiwan’s government to treat Americans with respect and to right the wrong their government did in the past, that will bring justice that can spear throughout all of Taiwan.

Help Americans and help the world. Please sign the petition at and share will as may of your friends and colleagues as possible: