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First visa-free travelers depart for US

A flight carrying the first group of Taiwanese travelers to enjoy visa-free entry to the U.S. departed yesterday evening for Los Angeles after a ceremony at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport marking the historic milestone in bilateral ties.

The China Airlines (CAL) flight took off at 5:10 p.m. with 343 passengers onboard. Seventy-one of them are expected to make use of Taiwan's newly effective inclusion in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (WVP), according to the airline.

The flight is scheduled to arrive at the airport in LA at 1:40 p.m. Thursday.

Speaking at the pre-flight ceremony, Foreign Minister David Lin said Taiwan's inclusion in the program marks another important landmark for Taiwan-

U.S. ties.

Based on the principle of reciprocity, starting from Nov. 1 Taiwan has also extended the length of stay for visiting U.S. nationals in Taiwan from 30 days to 90 days, he added.

The minister said he hopes that such policies could lead to more bilateral exchanges in trade, tourism, culture and academia.

Christopher Marut, director of the American Institute in Taiwan's (AIT) Taipei office, joined the ceremony on behalf of the U.S. government. Marut welcomed Taiwanese people to visit his country under the visa-exemption program.

Maurt himself also took the same CAL flight to attend a meeting in Washington, according to the AIT.

Taiwan officially gained admission to the U.S. VWP on Nov. 1, making it the 37th country to join the program and the seventh in Asia Pacific, following Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand.

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

VWP Saves Time, Money

The new procedure frees business travelers and tourists from going through the cumbersome process of applying for a U.S. visa and saves them the standard NT$4,800 visa fee.

Instead, Taiwanese visiting America for business or pleasure need only to apply for electronic travel authorization online and pay a US$14 fee.

They are required to present a machine-readable newly issued biometric e-passport.

The authorization allows multiple stays of up to 90 days over a two-year period in the U.S.

According to the AIT, thousands of applications for travel authorization from Taiwanese have been received over the past month since Taiwan's VWP membership was announced Oct. 2.

CAL Chairman Chang Chia-juch (張家祝) yesterday said the VWP is expected to boost air ticket sales to the U.S. by 20 to 30 percent, which is good news amid the sluggish global air travel conditions.

Local travel agencies also noted that two to three times more people are now considering visiting the U.S. during the upcoming Lunar New Year in February 2013, compared to the same period last year.

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Passengers for China Airlines (CAL) flight CI006 line up to check in at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, yesterday. They will be among the first bunch of passengers to enter the U.S. using the Visa Waiver Program. (CNA)

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