U.S. says visa-exempt agreement with Taiwan just around the bend

The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) in Taipei, the de facto US Embassy where ROC Taiwan citizens apply for a US visa. Photo: Want China Times
June 14, 2012 – TAIPEI, by Tsuei Shiao-hu, Wild East Politics Editor

The U.S. has added Taiwan to its upcoming Visa Waiver Program, although at a curious time for Taipei lawmakers.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas Nides expressed his excitement Thursday over the visa-exempt pact, though he wasn’t able to reveal the official date.

He did reveal, however, that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has officially ticked Taiwan as on the door list for likely signatories.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services David Donahue, who is heading the project, said the process would go through as quickly as possible, perhaps before the end of the year.

According a statement released by the State Department, the Visa Waiver Program will allow passport holders of 36 participating nations to visit the United States for tourism and business purposes for stays of up to 90 days.

However, nationals of VWP countries must get authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before they are eligible. Foreign nationals may also be disqualified if their visa applications were ever rejected by the U.S.

Strange Tidings

In a diplomatic nod to Taipei, Nides said Washington was quite satisfied with the present course of U.S.-Taiwan relations.

The U.S.’s announcement comes at the climax of political strife in Taiwan: In its final week, the Legislature’s opposition caucus has bucked at the ruling Kuomintang’s attempts to ram through an amendment to a 2006 health ban on ractopamine-laced beef.

States’-side farmers often use the drug as a feed additive on its livestock to promote leaner meat, and has pressured its allies to allow the drug by making it a prerequisite for their current Free Trade pacts.

U.S. officials visited Taiwan in March, 2012 on an inspection ahead of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). However, at the time, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Media Officer Christopher R. Kavanag said they had reached no decision.

With the timing of the State Department’s latest nod, Taiwan’s appetite has been whetted with a hint of the privileges that lie in store after it clears the beef hurdle and moves ahead to seal the latest free trade deal.

U.S. Tourism: A New Awakening

This proposed cut to the U.S.’s notoriously thick red tape follows on the heels of last month’s breakthrough announcement that the country will launch its first-ever international advertising campaign, aimed at promoting tourism to the United States.

Thomas Nides said he was excited the U.S. can add Taiwan to the countries the U.S. plans to sign visa-exempt agreements with, saying the proposed agreement would be a win-win situation. Both Taiwanese and U.S. passport holders will be liberated from the unnecessary bureaucratic procedure for short trips, he said.

Nides made the comments while hosting a meeting in Washington, D.C. aimed at expanding international tourism.

The U.S. State Department is working to meet its goal of 100 million tourists visiting by 2021, with business opportunities of US$250 billion. 2012 has seen a 12% increase from 62 million tourists in 2011.

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