Sat, Dec 10, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Taiwan nears US visa agreement

OPENING DOOR:To enter the program, Taiwan would sign an anti-crime agreement and the two countries would share respective fingerprint and biometric information

Staff Writer, with CNA, Washington

Taiwan will soon become a candidate country to be given visa waiver privileges by the US as most of the necessary procedures have been completed, Taiwanese Representative to the US Jason Yuan (袁健生) said yesterday.

The final step to be fulfilled before Taiwan can be considered for the visa-waiver program (VWP) is to sign an agreement on preventing and combating serious crime, Yuan said.

He added that the procedure, which involves the US Department of Homeland Security and US Department of Justice, would take some time.

Under the agreement, the two countries will exchange fingerprint and other biometric data, as well as personal information on their nationals in real time.

Taiwan has already met requirements for electronic passports and visa refusal rates, he said.

Yuan said that once all the necessary procedures are completed, the US Department of State would be responsible for suggesting that the US Department of Homeland Security nominate Taiwan as a candidate country.

After that, the US authorities would send delegations to Taiwan for further evaluation.

Yuan said he could not predict whether Taiwan would be listed by the end of the year, but he was confident a result would come soon.

On Wednesday, when testifying before a US congressional hearing on the risks and benefits of the program, US Representative Mike Quigley voiced strong support for expanding his country’s VWP to include eligible nations such as Taiwan.

Quigley said “vital nations” such as Poland, Brazil and Taiwan are currently excluded from the program and that the US “needs to keep its doors open for visits from its allies.”

According to Quigley, in addition to improving international relations and stimulating the economy, an expansion of the program would also make the US safer, given that all countries covered by the program must sign information-sharing agreements with the US.

Also at the hearing, David Heyman, assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, said his department “has long supported a carefully managed expansion of the program to select countries that meet the statutory requirements and are willing and able to enter into a close security relationship with the United States.”

Currently, eligible nationals of 36 countries are allowed to travel to the US without a visa and stay in the country for a maximum of 90 days for tourism or business purposes, he said.

Last year, VWP admissions generated approximately US$60 billion in export revenues for the US, he said.

The economic benefits of the VWP can be demonstrated with the example of South Korea, which entered the program in November 2008, he added.

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