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United States adds Taiwan to Visa Waiver Program
Banishing visas may boost Taiwanese visitors to the United States by 30 percent
The United States has announced that it will include Taiwan in its Visa Waiver Program (VWP) starting November 1.
Taiwanese nationals who are pre-approved, low-risk travelers will be able to stay in the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa. Travelers will need to obtain authorization online.
"Taiwan has met all the requirements of VWP membership," said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a Global Travel and Tourism Conference hosted by the U.S. State Department.
"(Taiwan has) committed to enhance law enforcement and security-related data sharing, timely reporting of lost and stolen passports and maintaining high counter-terrorism law enforcement, immigration control, aviation and document security standard."
As the 37th member of the program, Taiwan is the fifth Asian participant after Brunei, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
It is the first time that the United States has included a place that it does not recognize as an independent country in the VWP.
Although Washington helps Taiwan maintain its defenses by supplying arms, it began to formally recognize the island as a part of China in 1979 and does not support Taiwan independence.
China is not a participant of the VWP.
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Good for business
Last year, visitors under the program accounted for 60 percent of leisure and business travelers entering the United States by air, according to the Homeland Security Department.
More than 290,000 Taiwanese visited the United States in 2011, spending an estimated US$1.1 billion. With the introduction of the visa-waiver scheme, the numbers are expected to rise.
Taipei travel agents say visitor numbers may rise by 30 percent.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who also spoke at the conference, emphasized the tourism industry's impact on employment in the United States.
The average tourist spends US$4,000 in the United States and one job is created for every 65 international visitors, said Clinton.
Taiwanese passport holders wishing to travel to the United States should register online using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization before flying.
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