Taiwanese business travelers and tourists alike will be allowed to enter the U.S. for up to 90 days without first obtaining a visa beginning Nov. 1.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced on Tuesday that Taiwan would join the 36 countries (China is not among them) participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which offers entry into the U.S. without a previously arranged travel visa. Participants in the VWP must instead apply for advanced authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a Department of Homeland Security-based system.
The move marks the first time the U.S. has included a place that it does not recognize as an independent country.
Napolitano called the announcement “a major step forward in our long-standing economic partnership with Taiwan.”
“Taiwan’s participation in the VWP will not only stimulate tourism in the United States, it will also enable us to work together to maintain the strictest security standards.”
Other Asia-Pacific nations covered in the VWP include Japan, Singapore, Brunei, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The announcement is in accord with President Barack Obama’s Executive Order on travel and tourism, which is aimed at spurring federal agencies to make the nation more attractive and welcoming to potential visitors.
In fiscal year 2011, 18.3 million visitors entered the U.S. under the VWP, accounting for more than 60 percent of tourists and business travelers entering the U.S. by air, according to DHS statistics. Over 243,000 visitors from Taiwan traveled to the U.S. during the same period, but officials hope that number will rise dramatically after the VWP is put in place, bringing the fee Taiwanese must pay down from about $160 to just $14.
In adding Taiwan to the program, the DHS determined that it complies with key security and information-sharing requirements, such as timely reporting of lost and stolen passports; enhanced law enforcement and security related data; and maintenance of high counterterrorism, border control, aviation and document security standards.
Inclusion in the VWP represents yet another victory for Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeau, who has lobbied hard to secure visa-free status for Taiwanese citizens in nations around the world. When he took office in 2008, Taiwanese travelers could travel to just 54 countries and territories. Four years later, they can visit 128.
In a statement Tuesday, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Taiwanese will likely make 600,000 trips to the U.S. in the coming year under the new arrangement, indicating that the “Taiwan-U.S. tie has become closer.”