The Bureau of Consular Affairs (BOCA) yesterday said it was thinking of relaxing visa restrictions to attract more foreign tourists to Taiwan.
BOCA chief Luo You-chung (羅由中) said his bureau was studying methods to reduce or abolish visa fees and expand visa-waiver and landing visa programs for foreign nationals by the end of March to help Taiwan stay competitive in the global tourism market.
He made the remarks amid reports that Thailand, which has seen a sharp decline in tourist arrivals because of its political conflicts and the world financial crisis, was planning to waive visa fees for tourists starting next month.
“Along with Thailand, Taiwan is also studying a slate of ideas for preferential visa treatment to attract more foreign visitors and stimulate domestic consumption,” Lo said.
Currently, 38 countries, including Australia, the US, Japan, Canada and most of the EU countries, are eligible for visa-free entrance to Taiwan. Recently, Slovenia was added to the program.
Presently, the visa application fee to visit Taiwan is US$50. Luo said the bureau was considering extending visa-waiver privileges to southeast Asian nationals who hold a valid long-term visa to the US, Canada, the EU and Japan.
Luo said along with loosening border control restrictions, BOCA was also working closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the National Immigration Agency on contingency plans.
“In the future, the government will widen its preferential visa treatment program, but at the same time will guard against social problems that could stem from an influx of foreign visitors,” he said, citing as examples the problems of people working illegally in Taiwan or overstaying their visas. “The ministry will work closely with the National Immigration Agency to devise measures to avoid any possible negative impact.”
Starting next month, Taiwanese passport holders can enter the UK without a visa, making the UK the first European and major western country to include Taiwan in its visa-waiver program.
MOFA said it would continue negotiating with Washington and Canada to allow Taiwanese to enter their countries on a visa-free basis.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CNA