Taiwan moves 1 step closer to US visa waiver
By Joseph Yeh ,The China PostU.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has formally requested that the Secretary of Homeland Security consider Taiwan for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), according to a White House press release Thursday.
January 21, 2012, 12:03 am TWN
Over the past year, Taiwan has undertaken significant efforts to improve its law enforcement and document security standards to meet the strict requirements for VWP eligibility, the statement said.
Under the scheme, people from participating nations can travel to the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa.
Since November 2008, the Department of Homeland Security has added nine countries to the VWP, extending the program to a total of 36 countries, it added.
The U.S State Department's request belongs to part of an executive order on a tourism initiative that U.S. President Barrack Obama signed Thursday, with the goal of boosting travel and tourism in the country.
The tourism initiative also aims to boost non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent this year, and appoint a new group of chief executives to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, among others.
Taiwan was nominated for inclusion in the VWP last December.
After being put onto the candidates list, Taiwan's Foreign Minister Timothy Yang previously said the country is expected to be officially granted U.S. visa-free privileges during the second half of this year.
Asked to comment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman James Chang said the U.S. decision comes after Taiwan has met several qualifications, including the U.S. visa refusal rate for local applicants dropping to only 1.9 percent over the last 12 months.
Taiwan had also adopted important measures to strengthen its security and immigration systems in accordance with U.S. statutory requirements for membership in the VWP, and signed agreements for closer cooperation in crime prevention, he said.
After the country is put onto the VWP candidate list, a delegation of U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials is expected to visit here to determine whether local practices meet required standards, he added.
However, Chang said so far no official announcement has being made on when the inspection tour will take place.
Where's the Beef?
Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell was quoted in a report Thursday reiterating Washington's call for Taiwan to ease restrictions on U.S. beef.
“We would like to see Taiwan take some of the necessary steps on beef and other issues — now that the election is over — that will allow us to have the kind of flourishing economic relationship that we have with many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region,” Campbell was quoted in a AFP report.
Asked to comment, Chang said yesterday that the central government will continue to negotiate with its American counterpart and the beef issue should not be an obstacle for improving bilateral trade.
Washington reportedly suspended the scheduled TIFA talks with Taiwan, originally set for January last year, after the latter decided to remove from shelves some American beef products that were found to contain the locally banned animal feed additive ractopamine.
The U.S. has repeatedly urged Taiwan to accept a maximum residue limit for ractopamine instead of insisting on a zero-tolerance policy that it currently holds.
(Related story on page 3)