Wed, Aug 01, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan may benefit from US visa-waiver bill

By Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said that a new US bill that would expand its visa-waiver program to include several allies in its war on terror could benefit Taiwan.

It said that one of the conditions -- a low rate of visa rejection and overstays -- could apply to Taiwan.

Both the US House and Senate last week passed the Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act directing the secretary of Homeland Security to establish a pilot program to expand the visa waiver program for up to five new countries that are cooperating with the US on security and counterterrorism matters.

The act would extend a 90-day visa-free travel privilege to nationals of foreign countries that are allies in the war on terrorism.

Inclusion in the program is conditional on the rates of visa rejection, which needs to be less than 10 percent and the rate of overstays has to be decreased gradually.

The bill has been submitted to the White House and is awaiting US President George W. Bush's signature.

The visa-waiver program currently covers 27 countries. Other than Japan and Australia, all are Western European countries.

MOFA spokesman David Wang (王建業) yesterday pointed out that the government had pushed hard for Taiwanese citizens to obtain preferential treatment allowing them to travel visa-free to the US and Canada for up to for 90 days.

Taiwan meets the provisions that the bill demands, Wang said, pointing out that Taiwan had a low US visa refusal rate of only about 3 percent and few cases of people overstaying.

"If the US allows this legislation to apply to Taiwanese, US-Taiwan relations will be greatly advanced," Wang said. "For example, the peoples of Taiwan and Japan have had much closer relations and interaction since Japan offered free-visa treatment to Taiwanese tourists."

Other countries that meet the bill's criteria and may qualify for inclusion in the visa-waiver program are Argentina, Brazil, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Israel, South Korea, Malta, Slovakia and Uruguay.

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