The government’s plan to allow 30-day stays for Chinese applying for a second-time Free Independent Travel (FIT) program visit to Taiwan — provided they have no record of breaking the law — has prompted concern among critics that the increasing rate of Chinese within Taiwan’s borders poses significant risks to national security.
According to the National Immigration Agency (NIA), if there were no opposition to its newest amendment to the Regulations on Approving Chinese Residents on Tourism-related Activities in Taiwan (大陸地區人民來臺從事觀光活動許可辦法), the amendments are to be implemented starting in October.
The FIT program was approved in June 2011. Residents of 36 Chinese cities are eligible to apply. The quota allotted for free independent travelers reached 4,000 in April and is estimated to climb to 5,000 by the end of the year.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) raised concerns over national security in June, citing NIA statistics as showing that 2,678 Chinese have overstayed their visas as of the end of last year, among which 1,808 had overstayed their visas by three years.
In the five years of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, more than 2,036 people have overstayed their visas and last year alone saw 883 overstayed visas, double the amount from 2012, the data showed.
Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Chou Ni-an (周倪安) said most of the overstayed visas resulted from the FIT program, adding that it was evident the program was flawed.
The Chinese that could not be found may be performing illegal jobs such as prostitution or becoming members of fraud rings, she said, adding that there was always the possibility they were Chinese agents sent to gather information.
Chou said that when she visited the National Security Bureau recently, she was told that a shortage of staff meant the bureau could not monitor every Chinese citizen in the nation.
Meanwhile, National Cheng Kung University professor Hsu Chung-hsin (許忠信) said there was no legitimate reason for allowing Chinese tourists to stay double their allotted vacation time.
Taiwan is not that big and 15 days is sufficient, he said, adding that the extension for free independent travelers may give more time to those who may be conducting political or corporate espionage.
In response to the concerns, the NIA said that Chinese overstaying their visas might be a simple matter of them forgetting to extend it, adding that the government would continue to look into the Chinese who have vanished off the grid.
Chinese coming to Taiwan on the FIT program visas have to have guarantors and emergency contacts, and must deposit NT$100,000 as insurance, the agency said.