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E-passport applications jump 25 percent in Oct.

TAIPEI--The number of Taiwanese nationals applying for electronic passports has grown 25 percent in October from a year earlier, getting a boost from Taiwan's inclusion in the United States' Visa Waiver Program, a foreign ministry official said yesterday.

Bureau of Consular Affairs Director-General Thomas Chen said the bureau issued 96,047 e-passports between Oct. 1 and 24, a 25.48 percent increase from the same period of 2011.

The e-passports are machine-readable and feature a chip compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, according to the bureau, and are required to travel to the U.S. under the visa-waiver program.

About 5 million ICAO compliant passports have been issued by the ministry since the e-passport project was first introduced in the country in 2008 and account for 46.09 percent of all Taiwanese passports in circulation.

Taiwan's admission to the visa waiver scheme was announced Oct. 2. Under the program, which takes effect Nov. 1, eligible Taiwanese passport holders will be granted visa-free stays of up to 90 days in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Andy Chin, the director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Seattle, said Taiwanese nationals on a Seattle-bound EVA Airways flight on Nov. 2 will be greeted by a welcome banner at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Representatives of Taiwanese expatriate groups, political figures from the state of Washington, and airport officials will welcome the flight's passengers to celebrate the new visa-free policy, Chin said.

Such a welcome is unprecedented. Airport authorities have only held banners in the past to welcome passengers on maiden flights to Seattle, Chin said.

An exhibition on Taiwanese culture will also be held at the baggage claim area, he said.

Also Sunday, the American Institute in Taiwan, which represents U.S. interests in the absence of official ties, said it will launch an online Q&A session on its Facebook page to answer questions on the visa waiver program.

From 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sunday, AIT officials will be answering questions in the “VWP Live Webchat” section of the institute's Facebook page.

The visa-free treatment will replace B-1 and B-2 visas given for short-term visits to the U.S. for business or pleasure. About 100,000 Taiwanese visit the U.S. on the two visas every year.

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