Taiwan added to American visa-waiver program

Updated: 2012-10-03 11:08

By Tan Yingzi in Washington (China Daily)

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Starting Nov 1, travelers from Taiwan will be eligible to visit the United States without a visa, through an expanded waiver program announced on Tuesday by the US Department of Homeland Security.

Taiwan will be added to a list of 36 participants in the visa-waiver program, which allows visa-free visits to US soil of up to 90 days for business or tourism.

In fiscal 2011, the waiver program accounted for 18.3 million visits to the United States, or more than 60 percent of all tourist and business travelers entering the country by air, according to the DHS.

As of next month, eligible passport-holders from Taiwan will be required to apply online through Homeland Security's Electronic System for Travel Authorization before they depart. Such applicants will be subject to a $14 fee, which is cheaper than the $160 cost of a standard tourist-visa application.

Like all travelers, visa-waived visitors from Taiwan will be screened at their US port of entry and could be asked for proof of onward travel or other documentation as to the purpose of their stay, according to the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Taiwan's participation in the waiver system at a State Department conference on travel and tourism. Napolitano said Taiwan meets the strict requirements of the program, which requires participants to meet enhanced security standards.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed the importance of the industries for the US economy and diplomacy.

"In the last year, visitors from just China and Brazil supported more than 40,000 American jobs," she said on Tuesday.

The State Department has tried to streamline the visa-application process, especially in emerging market countries such as China.

Clinton added that in China, although visa applications have increased nearly 40 percent, the average waiting time has been reduced to five days.

By the end of June, the US government had processed a record 1 million visa applications from the Chinese mainland through the first nine months of fiscal 2012. (The current fiscal year ended Sept 30.)

About 1.18 million Chinese visited the US in 2011, and the total is expected to reach 2 million in 2015, according to China's National Tourism Administration.

President Barack Obama's administration, recognizing the economic value of travel and tourism, introduced in January a strategy to make the United States the top destination for foreign visitors.