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September 26, 2017

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US approves Taiwan Visa Waiver Program

Taiwan has been officially included in the United States Visa Waiver Program (VWP), allowing Taiwanese passport holders to travel to U.S. for stays of up to 90 days without obtaining a visa, the U.S. government announced Tuesday.

Taiwan is the 37th country to join the VWP. The nation is also the seventh country in Asia, following Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand, to be included in the VWP.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security made the announcement during a Global Travel and Tourism Conference hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department Tuesday.

The initiative is expected to benefit both countries since the VWP is one of the key components of U.S. President Barack Obama's stated goal of increasing travel and tourism to the U.S. to boost the American economy.

In response to the news, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokesman Steve Hsia yesterday expressed gratitude to Washington over the announcement, which he said further exemplifies sound bilateral exchange.

He said that Taiwan's inclusion into the VWP signals an important step forward in bilateral ties and a further increase in mutual trust between the two nations and is a further recognition of the progress Taiwanese people have made over the years.

The program will take effect in November at the earliest as the VWP scheme needs at least one month of preparation before it can be instituted, Hsia noted.

The VWP allows Republic of China passport holders to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business, ("B" visa purposes only), for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa, according to MOFA.

Those who plan to study, seek employment or stay permanently are not subject to the program, and thus are required to get relevant visas for entry, MOFA said.

The U.S is the 129th country or territory that has granted Taiwanese passport holders visa-free or landing visa entry.

E-passport and Household Registration a Must

MOFA's Bureau of Consular Affairs Director-General Thomas Chen (陳經銓) said the VWP will free Taiwan's citizens from going through the cumbersome process of applying for a U.S. visa and save them the NT$4,800 expense.

Under the new procedure, Taiwanese nationals who want to travel to the U.S. will simply have to register basic information online at an "Electronic System For Travel Authorization" (ESTA) website for authorization and then pay a US$14 fee, Chen said.

Chen, however, noted that only Taiwanese nationals who hold newly issued biometric e-passports with chips that store their holder's personal information will be able to enjoy the privilege, a MOFA official said.

Also, nationals who hold an R.O.C. passport but lack household registration in Taiwan will not be granted visa-free entry into the U.S., he added.

The ESTA is also available in Mandarin Chinese.

125,000 or More to Benefit

According to MOFA, around 400,000 Taiwanese visit the U.S. annually, with about 125,000 of them traveling on tourist or business visas.

Taiwan's inclusion in the VWP is expected save Taiwanese more than NT$600 million in visa-application fees, MOFA said.

The official inclusion came nearly a year after Taiwan was named a candidate for the visa-waiver scheme in December 2011.

Taiwan's campaign to be included in VWP had been ongoing, but it was not until the past few years that the nation met several VWP qualifications, including the U.S. visa-refusal rate for local applicants lower than 3 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, including issuing e-passports and signed three agreements with U.S. for closer cooperation in crime prevention.

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