Tue, Mar 12, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Quick visa program to be relaunched, with changes

MISSING IN ACTION:Express visa applications for travel agencies from Southeast Asia are to be offered through next year, after fixes were made due to disappearances

Staff writer, with CNA

A program that makes it easier for tour groups from certain Southeast Asian countries to visit Taiwan has been tightened after it was used in December last year in an attempt to get more than 100 Vietnamese into Taiwan to work rather than travel, the Tourism Bureau said on Friday.

The program, which made it more convenient for citizens of Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and India to visit Taiwan, is to suspend partnerships with foreign travel agencies for two months if three or more members of their tour groups overstay their visa in Taiwan or are unaccounted for, the bureau said.

If the number reaches six, agencies would be removed from the program, bureau official Chen Pei-chen (陳佩岑) said.

The restrictions came after 152 Vietnamese tourists — 23 who arrived in Taiwan with one tour group on Dec. 21 and 129 who came in three groups on Dec. 23 — went missing soon after arriving in Taiwan.

Most of those who were later tracked down said that they had jobs arranged for them before they arrived.

The bureau said it does not know how many remain in Taiwan, but on Feb. 19, the National Immigration Agency said that 56 were still unaccounted for.

The groups arranged travel to Taiwan under a special program that waives visa fees for groups of at least five travelers from the six countries if they are organized by bureau-designated “quality travel agencies” or part of company-sponsored groups.

It also expedites reviews of the visitors and allows electronic visa applications.

Chen said that the revisions to the program include requiring more detailed information from travel agencies when they apply for the program, including information on visitors’ flight and hotel bookings, and a requirement to report missing group members within two hours after their absence is noticed.

Taiwanese travel agencies that host tourists under the program must also step up their communications with foreign travel agencies and the bureau to report violations, Chen said.

If local travel agencies fail to do so twice, they would be removed from the program for the year following the last violation.

“We hope that the overhaul can prevent similar incidents from happening,” Chen said.

The program, which was initially to expire this year, is to be extended to the end of next year after the amendment, she said.

Vietnam was temporarily removed from the program following the incident, but Chen said that the bureau would begin accepting applications from 57 Vietnamese travel agencies from Friday.

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