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AIT launches visa waiver information drive

TAIPEI--The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) has launched a public information drive to inform Taiwanese about the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), in the wake of Taiwan's recent approval for admission to the program.

The AIT, which represents U.S. interests in Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties, set up an information booth at Sogo department store on Zhongxiao East Road on Sunday to help people learn how to access the program. A similar booth was set up at a night market in Taipei on Saturday.

The two events have drawn much attention from the public and the local media.

“We're here to help people understand the rules and methods to get into travel on visa waiver,” said William Q. Yu, a consular officer at the AIT's Taipei office, at the booth on Zhongxiao East Road.

AIT personnel at the booth also handed out flyers about registering online for the visa waiver, a requirement of the VWP.

With Taiwan's effective admission to the VWP on Nov. 1, Taiwanese citizens will be freed from the cumbersome process of obtaining a U.S. visa at a cost of NT$4,800 (US$163.7) per application.

However, Taiwanese travelers, like citizens of most other countries in the VWP program, will need to apply online for an electronic travel authorization for a fee of US$14. The authorization will be valid for a two-year period.

Visitors to the AIT information booth on Sunday were given the option of applying on the spot for the travel authorization. Around 25 Taiwanese citizens applied for the travel authorization at the booth that same day, the AIT said.

“It's really easy,” said a middle-aged Taiwanese woman, after completing the procedure with the help of AIT staff.

Yu said public response to Taiwan's admission to the VWP has been “very positive.”

Thousands of Taiwanese passport holders have applied for the electronic travel authorization, Yu said, adding that the rejection rate is less than 1 percent.

In early October, the U.S. announced Taiwan's inclusion as the 37th participant in the VWP.

Washington sees Taiwan's admission to the program as mutually beneficial, AIT spokesman Mark Zimmer said.

“We can welcome more people from Taiwan, but also they are going to boost our economy,” Zimmer told CNA at Sunday's event.

The opening of Taipei International Travel Fair later this week will be an opportunity to promote U.S. tourism, given that the visa waiver program will soon be expanded to Taiwanese nationals, he said.

Zimmer said he hopes the simple online application process for the electronic travel authorization, which only takes a few minutes to complete, will encourage more people to travel to the U.S.

The AIT is preparing to hold similar promotional events in Taiwan in the coming weeks but the date and locations have not yet been confirmed, Yu said.

The U.S. conducts an information drive each time a country or an area is admitted to the VWP, according to Yu.

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Visitors line up at the American Institute in Taiwan information booth at Sogo department store on Taipei's Zhongxiao East Road, yesterday, to learn more about the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.(CNA)

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