The first two groups of Taiwanese travelers to visit the US under its Visa-Waiver Program arrived in Los Angeles and New York on Thursday.
Seventy-one of them landed in Los Angeles on a direct China Airlines (CAL) flight from Taiwan, while six arrived in New York via Osaka, Japan, also on a CAL flight.
The Taiwanese visitors to Los Angeles were given a red-carpet welcome at the city’s international airport. The welcome party included US representatives Ed Royce and Janice Hahn of California, as well as Los Angeles Councilmember Tom LaBonge.
Many of the visitors had their photos taken with wax images of famous movie stars Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, which had been moved to the airport from Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Hollywood.
“Los Angeles is the world’s city of dreams and today we are helping to make dreams come true for a new wave of Taiwanese travelers,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement.
Thursday marked the beginning of Taiwan’s inclusion in the Visa-Waiver Program, which allows pre-approved travelers to enter the US for business or leisure travel for up to 90 days without a visa.
Taiwan is the 37th country globally and the only non-diplomatic state to be included in the US’ visa-free program. It has been forecast that the new visa-waiver status will boost the number of Taiwanese visitors to the US from 400,000 to 600,000 per year.
Los Angeles — the US city most often visited by Taiwanese — attracted 89,000 travelers from Taiwan last year, according to the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.
The board has predicted that the number of visitors from Taiwan will increase 25 percent to more than 100,000 this year with Taiwan’s admission to the Visa-Waiver Program.
One of the Taiwanese travelers on the CAL flight to Los Angeles on Thursday said she has relatives there, but had not visited in quite a while because of the cumbersome visa application process.
“Now that a visa is no longer required, I couldn’t wait to come back,” said the woman, who identified herself as Sonia.
A man surnamed Tuan (段), who was visiting New York on business, said he was very happy to be one of the first visa-free travelers from Taiwan and was very impressed with the convenience of the Visa-Waiver Program.
“Immigration clearance is now very simple, requiring only the presentation of an electronic travel authorization and completion of a customs declaration form,” Tuan said. “This is really very convenient.”
Juan Kui-hsiang (阮桂香), who was traveling with her husband, said it took them only five days to prepare for the trip, including obtaining the electronic travel authorization and buying tickets.
“The new measure saves money, time and energy, which is really fantastic,” she said.
Meanwhile, US officials in San Francisco and diplomatic staff from Taiwan’s representative office there also welcomed the first batch of Taiwanese visitors that arrived in the city under the program on Thursday.
Upon the visitors’ arrival at the city’s international airport, Mark Chandler, director of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of International Trade and Commerce, said Taiwan’s inclusion in the Visa-Waiver Program was great news for San Francisco.
The program makes it more convenient for Taiwanese to travel to San Francisco and can help boost the city’s economy, he said.
Bruce Fuh (傅正綱), director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco, said that US-Taiwan relations are now at their best and Taiwan’s visa-free status is expected to help strengthen bilateral exchanges and economic and trade relations.
Two large depictions of the “Techno Prince,” a Taoist religious icon that dances to modern electronic music, were also at the welcome party to greet the Taiwanese travelers.