Sat, Dec 31, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Thousands applying in person for new biometric passport

Staff Writer, with CNA

More than 300,000 Republic of China (ROC) nationals have applied for their first passports in person so far this year, with the new biometric passports contributing to Taiwan’s inclusion as a candidate for the US’ visa-waiver program, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Since the in-person passport application procedure was launched on July 1 for first-time applicants, more than 300,000 citizens had applied as of Tuesday, which represents an in--person passport application rate of 45.18 percent, said Thomas Chen (陳經銓), director-general of the ministry’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

In the past, only about 25 percent of ROC nationals obtained their passports after applying in person, with the other 75 percent of people applying for their passports through travel agencies acting on their behalf, Chen said.

Taiwanese can apply for their passports in person at the Bureau of Consular Affairs or at authorized local household registration offices around the country.

In addition, Chen said, a total of 3.88 million Taiwanese passport holders have changed their passports to biometric ones, a measure that has contributed to making it easier for Taiwanese to gain visa-waiver privileges from various countries around the world.

Those 3.88 million biometric passports constituted 35 percent of all valid passports in circulation, he said.

Taiwan’s biometric passport adheres to standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, he said.

The passport has an implanted chip that contains the carrier’s personal information and a photograph to help prevent identity fraud, he added.

Taiwan has inked several agreements with the US to qualify for the US’ visa-free program, including a US-Taiwan -information-sharing agreement on counter terrorism in August and another on lost and stolen passports which was signed in May.

From May 22, all lost or stolen ROC passports will become invalid, even if the passport is recovered within 48 hours, Chen said.

The American Institute in Taiwan announced on Dec. 22 that Taiwan had been nominated for the US’ visa-waiver program, although the US has not set a time frame for when Taiwan might actually qualify.

As long as the ROC is admitted into the visa-waiver program, Taiwanese traveling to the US for tourism or business purposes for stays of 90 days or less would not need to obtain a visa.

A visa presently costs about NT$4,340 (US$145).

Eligible travelers who wish to enter the US under the visa-waiver program would nevertheless have to apply for authorization online through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization and pay an administrative fee of US$14.

At present, the US has granted visa-free privileges for stays of up to 90 days to nationals of 36 countries and regions, six of which are located in Asia and Oceania: Singapore, Brunei, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.

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