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First visa-free travelers get the red carpet treatment upon Los Angeles arrival

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK--The first two groups of Taiwanese travelers to visit the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) arrived in Los Angeles and New York on Thursday.

Seventy-one of them landed in Los Angeles on a direct China Airlines (CAL) from Taiwan, while six others arrived in New York via Osaka, Japan, also on a CAL flight.

The Taiwanese visitors to Los Angeles were given a red-carpet welcome at the city's international airport. The welcome party included Congress representatives Ed Royce and Janice Hahn of California and Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge.

Many of the visitors had their photos taken with wax images of famous movie stars Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, which had been moved to the airport from Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Hollywood.

“Los Angeles is the world's city of dreams and today we are helping to make dreams come true for a new wave of Taiwanese travelers,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a statement.

Nov. 1 marked Taiwan's admission to the VWP, which allows pre-approved Taiwanese travelers to enter the United States for business or leisure travel for up to 90 days without a visa.

Taiwan is the 37th country globally and the only non-diplomatic state to be included in the U.S. visa-free program.

It has been forecast that the new visa waiver status will boost the number of Taiwanese visitors to the United States from 400,000 to 600,000 per year.

Los Angeles — the U.S. city most often visited by Taiwanese — attracted 89,000 travelers from Taiwan in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.

The board has predicted that the number of visitors from Taiwan will increase 25 percent to over 100,000 in 2012, with Taiwan's admission to the VWP.

One of the Taiwanese travelers on the CAL flight to Los Angeles on Thursday said she has relatives there but had not visited in quite a while because of the cumbersome U.S. visa application process.

“Now that a visa is no longer required, I couldn't wait to come back,” said the woman, who identified herself as Sonia.

Tuan Cheng-chih, who was visiting New York for business purposes, said he was very happy to be one of the first visa-free travelers from Taiwan and was very impressed with the convenience of the VWP.

“Immigration clearance is now very simple, requiring only the presentation of an electronic travel authorization and completion of a customs declaration form,” Tuan said. “This is really very convenient.”

Juan Kui-hsiang, who was traveling with her husband, said it took them only five days to prepare for the trip, including obtaining the electronic travel authorization and buying tickets.

“The new measure saves money, time and energy, which is really fantastic,” she said with obvious excitement.

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Passengers among the first groups of Taiwanese travelers to visit the United States under the Visa Waiver Program receive red carpet treatment at the airport in Los Angeles, yesterday.

(CNA)

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