Thu, Nov 01, 2012 - Page 3 News List

Local, US officials celebrate start of visa-free visits

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff reporter

The highest-ranking US Department of Commerce visitor to come to Taiwan in a decade, US Undersecretary for International Trade Francisco Sanchez, last night joined Taiwanese officials at the Taipei Guest House to celebrate the inclusion of Taiwan in the US Visa-Waiver Program, which takes effect today.

Washington on Oct. 2 announced Taiwan’s admission to the program. Taiwan is the 37th country to join the program, while the US is the 129th country or region to grant Republic of China passport holders visa waiver status.

Sanchez said he was confident that with the Visa-Waiver Program and the people of Taiwan, the US will achieve the “ambitious” goal of US President Barack Obama to bring 100 million international visitors to the US by 2020.

“You have been regular visitors to the US. More than 300,000 people from Taiwan regularly visit [the US], and I hope now from 300,000, we see 400, 500, perhaps 6 or 700,000. I want you to go fly fishing in Alaska ... and perhaps you will go to the Houston and watch [a] basketball game with [NBA star] Jeremy Lin (林書豪),” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said the inclusion of Taiwan in the program was a “milestone” because it could mean the “strengthening” of relationships between Taiwan and the US and “more understanding between our people.”

Sanchez later last night joined his colleagues at the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT ) by handing out flyers on the Visa-Waiver Program and the electronic system for travel authorization (ESTA) — an approval visitors traveling under the Visa-Waiver Program need to apply for online before they fly — at Ching Kuang Night Market.

The new procedure frees business travelers and tourists from going through the cumbersome process of applying for a US visa and save them the standard NT$4,800 (US$163) visa fee.

The authorization allows multiple stays of up to 90 days over a two-year period in the US.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a flight carrying the first group of Taiwanese enjoying visa-free access to the US will depart today for Los Angeles, with all 375 seats booked in advance.

The ministry said the visa waiver has also generated higher demand for e-passports in Taiwan.

At the reception last night, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) also expressed his sympathies to the US for the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

In response to a media inquiry on why the ministry did not issue a travel alert for the US cities that were affected by the storm, a ministry official who declined to be named said the ministry was cautious in issuing travel alerts because the move sometimes draw ire from the country affected.

Travel agencies will cancel trips when necessary, he added.

Additional reporting by CNA

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