US considering adding Taiwan to visa waiver program

The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) announced last month that the United States has put Taiwan on the candidate list of countries whose citizens are under consideration to be added to its visa waiver program. The American Homeland Security Department will send a team to Taiwan to investigate the related issues.

Foreign Minister Yang Jin-tian said that if Taiwanese nationals become eligible for visa free travel, from the second half of 2012, they will no longer need to pay the visa application fee. He said that this announcement shows that Taiwan has met the technical requirements of the US visa waiver program in terms of the security of its passports, the visa rejection rate, border control, and cooperation in the sharing of information. The move also demonstrates that Taiwanese travelers are law-abiding, and marks a further step forward in the development of Taiwan-US relations.

The United Daily News reported that there are 36 countries in the world that have already been granted visa-free access to the United States. Taiwan is now a candidate country. If successful, Taiwan will be the seventh country in the Asia-Pacific region to receive visa waivers after Japan, Korea, Singapore, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand. President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration has already succeeded in securing visa free travel for Taiwan passport holders to 124 countries. This is double the countries that grant Chinese passport holders free-visa status.

The Taipei-based China Times commented in an editorial: “We think that this is not just a major milestone in Taiwan-US relations, it is also a breakthrough with significant meaning in Taiwan’s international status and its foreign relations.”

“Of course, this has been achieved based on Taiwan’s economic strength, plus the excellent passport security technology, the high quality of Taiwan citizens, but there is an undeniable and important reason – with the improvement of cross-strait relations, the reduction of confrontation between the two sides is recognized by the international community. In developing relations with Taiwan, these countries no longer worry about the objections of Beijing.”

Due to the special Taiwan-US relationship and the historic friendship, the United States has always been the top destination for Taiwanese tourists, students, and migrants. The Economic Daily reported that, Yao Ta-kuang, chairman of the Travel Agent Association of the ROC, Taiwan, pointed out that there are about 400,000 to 500,000 Taiwanese visitors the United States each year, mainly to visit relatives and to study. Due to the complicated US visa application procedure, an increasing number of Taiwanese travelers have started visiting Europe rather than the US. Once the US grants visa free travel to Taiwanese passport holder, the number visiting the US is expected to increase by 20 percent.

The World Journal, one of the largest Chinese language dailies in the US, reported that many Taiwanese passport holders who have been applying for American green cards believe there will be no need to spend time, money and effort applying for a green card once Taiwan achieves visa-free status. Some are even thinking of abandoning their green cards altogether.

Levi C. Ying, an immigration lawyer, said that the majority of Taiwanese immigrants to the US are motivated by the prospect of improving the educational opportunities for their children, as well as for business convenience. Once Taiwan attains visa free status, many Taiwanese immigrants will reconsider the merits of applying for a US green card. However, Immigration lawyer Sheu Jiunn-liang said that after the US government strengthens the requirement of Americans to report their overseas accounts, it is justified that immigrants from Taiwan may want to give up their green cards. However, he does not believe that there will be another wave of people giving up green cards once Taiwan passport holder are exempt from applying for a visa, the World Journal reported.

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