The US last night announced Taiwan’s membership in its Visa Waiver Program (VWP), as the nation became the 37th country to receive the privilege.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) listed Taiwan on its Web site as one of the countries enjoying visa-free status, according to the Central News Agency.
Taiwan will become the seventh nation in the Asia-Pacific region to obtain visa waiver treatment from the US after Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Brunei and South Korea.
Inclusion in the program means that Republic of China (ROC) passport holders will be granted visa-free stays of up to 90 days in the US.
The initiative is expected to benefit both countries. The VWP is one of the key components of US President Barack Obama’s stated goal of increasing travel and tourism to the US. It will also free Taiwanese from the cumbersome process of applying for a US visa and save them the NT$4,800 fee.
Under the new procedure, which will take effect one month from the date of the announcement, ROC nationals who want to travel to the US will simply have to register basic information online and pay a US$14 fee. The online approval will allow multiple stays of up to 90 days over a two-year period.
Washington’s approval comes after a lengthy screening process. Taiwan obtained VWP candidacy status in December last year after years of trying to join the program. A group of officials from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) visited Taiwan in early March to evaluate Taiwan’s bid, inspecting Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport among other procedures.
Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達), director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of North American affairs, said Taiwan began negotiations with the US on the waiver program two years ago after the country met eligibility requirements, including a visa refusal rate of less than 3 percent.
Now that Taiwan has been granted US visa-waiver status, nearly all of the countries and regions in the world that Taiwanese often travel to have either exempted Taiwanese from visa requirements or offer Taiwanese landing visa status, the ministry said.
The US became the 129th country or region to grant Taiwan visa privilege, with the Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar on a list of priority countries identified by the ministry that it is continuing to work with to qualify for their programs.
Meanwhile, tourism officials said the program could result in a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in tourists heading to US this quarter.
Lion Travel Service Co spokesman Andy Yu (游國珍) said Taiwanese who wanted to visit the US were often intimated by the complicated procedures they had to endure.
“They were required to fill a detailed application form and show up in person at the American Institute of Taiwan [AIT] for an interview,” Yu said. “During the travel season, visitors would need to make reservations for the interview, sometimes one-and-a-half months in advance. Those living in central and southern Taiwan would have to travel to the north, and they were not even guaranteed that their applications would be approved.”
Yu said more people would now be encouraged to travel to the US.
In related developments, the National Immigration Agency said it would step up its border security measures and anti-terrorism cooperation with other countries after Taiwan’s inclusion in the waiver program. Beginning next year, the agency will set up systems at airports and seaports that collect and match fingerprints and take photos of foreign passengers, agency Director-General Hsieh Li-kung (謝立功) said.