Tourists and business executives from Taiwan will be allowed to travel to the U.S. without a visa for as long as 90 days starting Nov. 1.
Taiwan will join 36 countries already participating in the Visa Waiver Program, which provides entry without a travel visa, U.S. officials said yesterday. China isn’t among them.
The announcement “is a major step forward in our long- standing economic partnership with Taiwan,” Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, said in a statement.
About 290,000 Taiwanese visited the U.S. last year, spending more than $1.1 billion, according to a U.S. Commerce Department report.
The decision is likely to bring an increase in Taiwanese tourism to the U.S., said Frank Wang, a press officer for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington.
“It’s definitely beneficial to both sides,” Wang said in an interview. “We appreciate the U.S. announcement.”
Unlike other participants in the Visa Waiver Program, Taiwan isn’t an independent country recognized by the U.S. Since 1979, the U.S. has recognized Taiwan as being part of China and doesn’t support independence for Taiwan, while pledging to help maintain its defenses.
An official with the Department of Homeland Security, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act specifies that the U.S. can treat Taiwan as it does any other nation or government with regard to laws concerning international programs.
China doesn’t enjoy the same visa-free travel privilege that Taiwan will now receive. A State Department official, who briefed reporters yesterday on condition of anonymity, said that while officials in Beijing were aware of the decision on Taiwan, the U.S. made no special effort to consult China on the decision.
Geng Shuang and Gao Yuan, spokesmen for the Chinese embassy in Washington, didn’t immediately respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment.
The Visa Waiver Program accounted for 18.3 million visits to the U.S. in fiscal 2011, or more than 60 percent of the tourists and business travelers entering the U.S. by air, according to a Homeland Security Department statement.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who hosted a travel and tourism conference for business leaders and government officials yesterday at the State Department, said American embassies around the world are stepping up efforts to promote the U.S. as a travel destination.
“The number of tourists bound for the United States is growing all the time,” Clinton said at the conference. “So in addition to trying to ease the way for Americans to travel, we have matched that commitment with trying to ease the way for foreigners to travel here.”
Promoting the effort as a jobs initiative, Clinton said the average tourist from overseas spends $4,000 in the U.S. She said one American job is created for every 65 international visitors.
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