The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced that it has added Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, to the list of countries eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows nationals of specified countries to visit the U.S. for up to ninety days without first obtaining a nonimmigrant or immigrant visa. This is part of an overall effort by the Obama administration to streamline the procedures for travel and tourism to the U.S. The Taiwanese government, which only enjoys the unofficial recognition of the U.S. government, had to comply with a number of requirements for the country to qualify for the VWP.
Promotion of Travel and Tourism
The White House issued an executive order on January 19, 2012 calling on agencies of the Executive Branch to facilitate travel to the U.S., with the goal of making the country “the world’s top travel and tourism destination.” This included directives to DHS and the Department of State (DOS) to increase the capacity to process nonimmigrant visa applications, decrease processing time for such applications, and expand membership in the VWP. DHS announced on October 2 that it had added Taiwan to the list of approved VWP countries, bringing the total number of eligible countries to thirty-seven.
The Visa Waiver Program
According to DOS, the purpose of the VWP is to direct consular resources where they are most needed abroad by removing “unnecessary barriers to travel.” This also has the benefit of promoting tourism in the U.S. The list of approved nations mostly reads like a who’s who of American allies. All but six are in Europe. Asia is represented by Brunei, Singapore, South Korea, and now Taiwan. Australia and New Zealand, while not geographically European, are culturally similar to the U.S. and United Kingdom. Mexico is not part of the VWP, and Canada and Bermuda have their own procedures for short-term visits.
DHS has discretion over which countries to include in the VWP. In order to qualify for inclusion, a country must meet certain requirements regarding law enforcement and the sharing of security information with the U.S. government. Countries must also have high standards with regards to their own border and passport security, as well as robust counterterrorism programs. Visitors arriving to the U.S. via the VWP must have a valid passport and must have registered with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
The Unusual Case of Taiwan
The addition of Taiwan has added an unusual twist to the VWP, as it has forced DOS to modify its use of the word “country.” Due in part to a longstanding conflict with the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan is not formally recognized by numerous nations around the world, only has the unofficial recognition of the U.S., and is not a member of the United Nations. The U.S. government informally extends its laws and international agreements to Taiwan by statute.
The VWP tends to have the intended effect of streamlining processes for travel by nationals of certain countries, allowing wiser allocation of consular resources. With the addition of programs like ESTA and various requirements for visitors using the VWP, it seems at times as though it is becoming as cumbersome as the regular B-1 or B-2 nonimmigrant visa process. It may promote tourism by facilitating travel to the U.S., but it promotes little more than that, as visitors are shown the door after ninety days. Still, the VWP beats multiple trips to the U.S. consulate in one’s home country to obtain a visa.
More Blog Posts:
The Government’s War on H-1Bs, ImmigRantings, October 11, 2012
Obama Signs Immigration Executive Order, ImmigRantings, June 15, 2012
Problems with the H-1B visa: From Work Horse to Show Pony, ImmigRantings, February 13, 2012
Photo credit: ‘VisaWaiverProgramMalt’ by Philip200291 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.