Sun, Oct 19, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Bush excludes Taiwan from US visa-free list

ESTONIA YES, TAIWAN NO Except for machine-readable passports, Taiwan seemingly met all of the criteria for inclusion in the US’ ‘Visa Waiver’ program

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Taiwanese hopes for more favorable visa treatment from the US were dashed on Friday when US President George W. Bush named 13 new countries as immediate or pending beneficiaries of its “Visa Waiver” program. The list excluded Taiwan.

Taiwan’s supporters in Washington were outraged at the omission and blamed the administration’s close ties to China.

Taiwanese officials in Washington had no comment on the announcement, according to an aide to Taiwan’s envoy in Washington, Jason Yuan (袁健生).

Yuan was involved in meetings on Friday and could not respond to the Taipei Times on the issue.

Other Taiwanese officials in Washington had expressed optimism that Taiwan would eventually be included in the visa program.

A White House spokesman indicated that Taiwan could be admitted to the program in due course.

Saying he had no details on Taiwan’s position, the US official told the Taipei Times that “this is not to rule out anyone else in the future. I would expect immigration officials on a bilateral basis to continue discussions with those countries that are interested ... It is a process, the program is organic.”

The program allows passport holders of friendly countries with low security risk to enter the US for up to 90 days for business, pleasure or transit without a visa. US officials had previously identified Taiwan as a candidate eligible for visa-free status.

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a US government watchdog, has criticized the administration for mistreating Taiwan in operating the Visa Waiver program. It accused the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security of not informing Taiwan of its status in its bid for inclusion, adding that the agencies “created confusion” and failing to explain why the US was not negotiating with Taiwan.

The program was created in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to keep potential terrorists out of the US and to use favorable visa treatment to reward friendly countries that supported the US-led “war on terror” and did not pose a security risk.

The program was initially limited to countries with “refusal rates” — the number of people refused entry by US consular officials abroad (including the American Institute in Taiwan) — of below 3 percent each year.

Last year, Congress enacted a law that would allow countries with refusal rates less than 10 percent to be added to the program. The GAO report showed that Taiwan last year had a rate of 5 percent, though Taiwanese officials say the real rate was about 3.8 percent, well below the rates of most countries added this year. The rates of some of those countries exceeded 10 percent last year, the GAO said.

The law also requires that at least 97 percent of people who enter the US from a given country leave the US on time.

Other requirements are that the government in question exercise effective border control, issue secure travel documents and have a reliable system for reporting lost or stolen passports.

Another requirement, which could have affected Taiwan’s inclusion in the current list, is machine-readable passports with biometric information, including a digitized photograph.

But Taiwan’s real problem, according to some of its supporters, is political.

“It is a disgrace,” said Coen Blaauw, executive director of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs.

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