Lobsang left Dharamsala, India, for Taiwan 10 years ago on a fake passport. He was 27 years old then and had dreamed of making a better living on the self-ruled island so he could send money back to his parents, wife and newborn daughter. He had hope for success because Tibetans in exile commonly believed that Taiwan had a policy of welcoming them. But to his chagrin, Tibetans who entered Taiwan illegally could become residents only with special amnesty, and his name was not on the last government list, issued in 2001. Since he did not have the identity documents to go anywhere else, he was stranded in Taiwan as an illegal immigrant, with no work permit, medical care or education. He kept moving from one friend's home to another, hiding from police. He could not risk being repatriated to India, where many others had been jailed for leaving the country illegally. 'I left India for a better life, but instead I'm stuck in a more helpless situation,' Lobsang said. 'I've been in exile all my life, and I just want to live normally like others.' Three weeks ago, Lobsang and more than 100 other Tibetans who entered Taiwan illegally or whose student visas have expired staged a sit-in at Liberty Square in Taipei to appeal for Taiwanese residency as refugees. The majority came to Taiwan three to eight years ago. Most are from India, a few from Nepal and Bhutan. They said they had left because they faced 'basic problems of survival' and could not return to Tibet for fear of political persecution. The Taiwanese government finally agreed last week to give them each a one-year 'overseas Chinese' residency permit, which would allow them to remain on the island but not to work or receive social welfare. A statement issued by the government's Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission last Thursday also said that Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was 'very concerned' about the situation and had already proposed amendments to the current Immigration Act that would be submitted to the island's legislators after January 8 to find a permanent solution. The leader of the Tibetan protesters, Jamga, said the refugees had begun applying for the permits on Monday, but they would continue the sit-in until they received them. Also, they still had to find accommodation - at present the address they listed on the applications was Liberty Square. But that is not their only trouble. Amendments to the Immigration Act would involve setting a definition of the residency status for these Tibetans, and experts warned the government must avoid letting the matter become political. The island's opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), always looking for a go at the 'One China' concept, has already stepped in, calling for the government to grant political asylum to the Tibetans by introducing a new asylum law. George Tsai Wei of National Chengchi University said the Tibetans must not allow themselves to become a 'political tool' of the DPP, and the government should try to resolve the problem in a low-key way. 'If the government could make it clear that this is purely a human rights consideration, and that it is granting these Tibetans residency on the basis of being free of the DPP's influence and the inclination towards Tibetan independence, I believe the matter would not turn into a problem in cross-strait relations,' he said. Different experts have said that collusion between advocates of Taiwanese and Tibetan independence has become a growing concern for Beijing. Taiwan Association for Human Rights secretary general Tsai Chi-hsun said Taiwan should not be afraid that introducing a refugee law would open up the floodgates to asylum seekers, since the UN refugee convention made it clear that only those seeking asylum for 'well-founded fear of being persecuted' in their own countries - and not simply for economic betterment - could qualify as refugees. But the case in Taiwan is more complicated, she said. 'The Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission had historically stoked the imagination of Tibetans in exile that they could settle in Taiwan.' Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies programme at Columbia University in New York, said the 'secondary exile' from Tibetan communities in South Asia had become a 'hugely widespread phenomenon' since the 1990s. Most of them migrated to western countries sympathetic towards the Tibetan cause, mainly the United States. Some went to Taiwan. The Taiwanese administration, because of its long political rift with the Beijing government, had in earlier decades welcomed Tibetans to settle. This initially created tension within the exile community since the Taiwanese constitution recognises Tibet as part of China. Even so, hundreds of Tibetans chose Taiwan since the journey was more affordable. The Tibetan government-in-exile has no official position on the 'secondary exile'. But it appears to have gradually changed its attitude from resenting the loss of talented Tibetans to embracing or even subtly encouraging it. 'The Tibetan-in-exile community seems to have weathered the crisis quite well, and it is now uncertain whether this wave of secondary exile is fragmenting or reinvigorating the diaspora,' Professor Barnett said. Back at Liberty Square, Lobsang was holding meetings with his fellow Tibetans about what to do while they wait for the amendments to the law, which could take months. 'I want to go back to Dharamsala, where my family is,' he said. 'And if China allows us to go back to Tibet without punishment, I will [do that] as well. I don't want to live my whole life under other people's shelter. How can one fight for a political cause when he cannot even feed his family?'