Update: On Nov. 1, 2012, Taiwan was admitted as the 37th member of the Visa Waiver Program. Taiwanese citizens can now travel to the U.S. without obtaining a visa for 90 days. Even before this designation, Americans were allowed 30 days in Taiwan with no visa. As a courtesy, the Taiwanese government has extended this period to 90 days to match the length of time allowed to its citizens in the U.S.
Taiwanese tourists and business travelers could soon be allowed to visit the U.S. for up to three months without visas.
In laying out a broader package of measures aimed at attracting more foreign tourists, the White House announced Jan. 18 that Taiwan is being formally evaluated by the Department of Homeland Security for the Visa Waiver Program.
The program currently includes 36 member countries whose citizens can travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days, granted they allow the same access for Americans. U.S. tourists can already travel to Taiwan without a visa.
The move could benefit Georgia, which has four sister cities and longstanding business ties in Taiwan. Atlanta and Taipei have had a formal relationship since 1974 that has led to a variety of educational and government exchanges.
During a November interview, Anna Kao, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta, said 124 countries now spare Taiwanese citizens the often-cumbersome process of applying for a visa.
She said talks with U.S. authorities were progressing as Taiwan worked on enhanced measures to prevent passport forgery. Last year the Taiwanese government started linking biometric data to passports.
The U.S. requires that citizens of visa-waiver countries apply in person when seeking passports from their governments, she said. To make this more convenient, Taiwan has increased the number of application sites to nearly 260 across an island that is one-fourth the size of Georgia, Ms. Kao said.
The White House praised Taiwan’s efforts to improve law enforcement and document security. Final approval of visa-waiver status lies with Homeland Security. The department has admitted nine new countries into the program since November 2008. South Korea and Japan are the only East Asian members.
The Taiwan announcement came after President Obama took the stage at Walt Disney World in Orlando to announce visa changes that would enable more foreign travelers to visit the U.S.
He vowed to expand the Visa Waiver Program and step up efforts to process visas in markets like Brazil, China and India. Doing so would be a boon to the tourism industry, which supported 7.5 million American jobs in 2010, the president said.
In Brazil and China, U.S. consular offices handled 800,000 and 1 million visa cases during the 2011 fiscal year, respectively, and the numbers are growing.
Mr. Obama charged the State Department with expanding visa processing capacity in both countries by 40 percent and ensuring that 80 percent of applicants get their interviews within three weeks of applying.
Those two countries are particularly important for turning increased tourism into more jobs. Chinese and Brazilian visitors spend about $5,000 and $6,000 per person per trip, respectively, according to the Commerce Department’s Office for Travel and Tourism Industries.
Click here for more on the Visa Waiver Program: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html