Taiwan gets US visa-waiver nomination

‘CHRISTMAS PRESENT’::The nomination will be followed by an extensive and detailed evaluation of homeland security and immigration systems by US government officials

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff Reporter

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 - Page 1

Taiwan has been nominated for inclusion in the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), pending a review of the nation’s homeland security and immigration system by the US government, the American Institute of Taiwan (AIT) announced yesterday.

In response to media inquiries about the possible impact of the decision on the presidential election in three weeks, AIT Acting Director Eric Madison said the announcement was made because of the “recent completion of statutory requirements” for Taiwan to qualify for the program.

“We are announcing it now because Taiwan is ready now. Taiwan made the statutory requirements just recently. We are not going to delay or, on the other hand, nominate Taiwan when it isn’t ready,” Madison said.

The eligibility requirements for the waiver program include the use of biometric passports, mandatory in-person passport applications, signing agreements with the US on information exchange on lost and stolen passports, a visa refusal rate of less than 3 percent and tight immigration controls against felons and terrorists.

“Taiwan has to be qualified to be nominated. The last agreement was concluded yesterday, so the statutory requirements have been completed,” Madison said.

Madison said the US “took a neutral stance” on the election and that the completion of the requirements was “the deciding factor.”

The AIT called a press conference at 4:30pm yesterday to announce the decision, which Madison said was principally a “credit to the great economic, social and political progress” Taiwanese have made over the years.

Madison said the nomination was the culmination of hard work and cooperation between Taiwan and the US.

“In the last year in particular, Taiwan has adopted important measures to strengthen its security and immigration systems in accordance with US statutory requirements for the VWP,” he said.

The nomination will be followed by an extensive and detailed evaluation of Taiwan’s homeland security and immigration systems by the US Department of Homeland Security. The US Congress would then be notified.

The AIT did not set a time frame for the completion of that process and provided no estimate based on past experiences of other VWP countries.

“There is no time frame. Each case is a unique case,” Madison said.

At present, the VWP allows nationals from 36 participating countries to travel to the US for tourism or business (“B” visa purposes only) for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa, the AIT said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs called a press conference at 5:30pm to welcome the announcement, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) describing the nomination as a “hard-earned achievement” that “both the government and people of Taiwan should be proud of.”

It showed that efforts made by the government to improve passport security and other aspects have been recognized and that it manifested the statement made by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that Taiwan is “an important security and economic partner” of the US, Yang said.

“More importantly, it also shows that Taiwanese have proved to be well-mannered and law-abiding citizens,” he said.

If Taiwan is admitted to the VWP, it will become the fifth Asian county to enjoy the privilege, following Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Brunei, Yang said.

Yang said he expected Taiwanese would be able to travel to the US without a visa in the latter half of next year.

“It’s a great Christmas gift,” he said.

In response, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) praised the decision and said it is glad to see a closer relationship with the US.

“It takes some time before a candidate country is granted visa-free privileges and the DPP would like to work with the US to achieve that goal, as well as strengthening bilateral relations as the US’ strategic partner in the Asia-Pacific region if it wins the presidential election next month,” DPP spokesperson Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) said.

The decision has been a collective effort by all Taiwanese through the years with lowered rates of overstays and visa refusals, he said.

Additional reporting by Chris Wang