The Korea Herald


Taiwan needs diplomacy to get U.S. visa-waiver

By 류근하

Published : March 4, 2011 - 18:23

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As of January this year, Taiwanese travelers can visit the Schengen Area visa-free, marking yet another step toward the island’s goal of acquiring wider visa exemption privileges for its passport holders.

The inclusion of the European Union brings the number of countries and territories offering Taiwanese citizens visa exemptions to 96, with 75 granting Republic of China passport holders visa-waiver privileges and 21 others allowing travelers to obtain visas at their ports of entry.

The latest exemption applies to 22 EU member states: three associated Schengen states, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland; three non-Schengen EU member states, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus; as well as seven smaller nations and territories, namely the Vatican, Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Starting this month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ new procedures requiring visa applicants to complete passport applications in person is another positive step towards establishing more visa-free programs with foreign countries, including the United States.

At the moment, nearly 60 percent of all Taiwanese commission a travel agent to apply for passports on their behalf. The MOFA wants to encourage them to file their documents in person at one of the three branches of the consular bureau or to visit one of the 124 household registration offices across the island to have their identities confirmed before entrusting a travel agency to file the applications on their behalf.

While it might be convenient for people to have travel agents make their passport runs for them, the practice creates some security worries. For example, human smugglers can exploit the practice and use photos of illegal migrants, say those from mainland China, in passport applications. Without in-person applications to verify that the applicant is indeed the person on the passport photo, the possibility of an ROC passport being wrongly issued to a non-Taiwanese person can be much higher.

The stakes are high for the government as Washington has tightened border security since 9/11, requiring a non-immigrant visa refusal rate of less than 3 percent, the sharing of information on terrorists and criminals and strong security standards for the issuance of travel documents.

Although Taiwan met the first requirement for the first time in U.S. fiscal year 2010, the MOFA knows that the passport application procedure is one of the last hurdles before attaining visa exemption privileges with the United States ― a prime destination for local businesspeople and students.

While some countries with diplomatic ties to Taiwan may grant visa-free treatment to Taiwanese citizens despite opposition from China, nobody can deny that President Ma Ying-jeou’s “flexible diplomacy” is key to the recent improvements. Thanks to Ma’s new policies, Taiwan has eventually broken free from the stigma of checkbook diplomacy and successfully projected a new image and status in the international community.

So far, Taipei and Beijing have reached 15 agreements, mostly on expanding trade and economic cooperation, including the signing of an agreement on medical and health cooperation on Dec. 21, 2010, and the economic cooperation framework agreement on June 29, 2010, marking several important steps towards expanding cooperation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Following in the footsteps of the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand and Canada, the EU visa-free treatment means that ROC passport holders can visit many more countries around the globe with much less hassle.

According to data from the MOFA, the number of Taiwanese passengers to the U.K. increased by 100 percent in the two months following the decision to allow Taiwanese passport holders visa-free treatment. In terms of the number of trips to countries and regions giving Taiwanese citizens either visa-free or landing visa treatment, there has been an increase of 94 percent.

Recall that Taiwan became the sixth Asian country to acquire EU visa-waiver privileges. The visa exemption drive took off in July when the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, put forth a concrete bill to include Taiwan in the visa-waiver program. The proposal then went through a 15-step process and cleared its last hurdle on Nov. 25, 2010, when the Council of the European Union passed it unanimously without debate, demonstrating that diplomacy is still an important aspect of the international game.

(Editorial, The China Post)

(Asia News Network)