Starting in March, Taiwanese will be required to show personal identification documents in person when applying for passports to further Taiwan’s efforts to be admitted to the US visa-waiver program, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡) said yesterday.
The new procedure will be introduced on a trial basis between March and June, and if it works well, it will be implemented officially on July 1, Shen told a Foreign and National Defense Committee meeting at the legislature.
If a policy requiring first-time passport applicants to appear in person were not implemented, Taiwan would never be granted visa-waiver status from the US, Shen said.
Ministry statistics show that between 60 percent and 70 percent of Taiwanese either commissioned travel agencies or other people to apply for passports on their behalf, a practice the US considers a “loophole in passport security” whereby people can obtain Republic of China (ROC) passports for criminal purposes, Shen said.
Between 2008 and last year, the US uncovered 68 cases of illegal Chinese immigrants under the age of 14 entering the US with ROC passports, Shen said.
Requiring passport applications to be delivered by the applicant in person is a practice that has been adopted by an increasing number of countries, he said. Data from November last year shows that 25 of the 32 so-called advanced countries required its people to apply for a passport in person.
A survey conducted in September showed a majority of Taiwanese were amenable to the requirement, with 83.5 percent saying the policy would help stem fake passports and 90.4 percent saying this would help secure US visa-waiver privileges, Shen said.
At present, only the Bureau of Consular Affairs in Taipei and its three branches in Taichung City, Kaohsiung City and Hualien County are charged with issuing passports.
To minimize the inconvenience caused by the new policy, the government will increase the number of passport service points to 373 by incorporating all 369 household registration offices.
A total of 75 household registration offices — with at least one in each county or city — have agreed to join a trial program.
In related news, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Justin Chou (周守訓) said he would propose that the visa-waiver treatment for Malaysians be revoked if the government failed to convince Malaysia to resume issuing landing visas to ROC passport holders by February.
The Malaysian government has stopped issuing landing visas as part of efforts to prevent immigrant workers from abusing the program.
Shen said the ministry had expressed its concerns over the development with Malaysian authorities and made it clear they should not take visa-waiver treatment for Malaysians for granted.