The US Citizen and Immigration Service announced that, effective November 1, 2012, Taiwan will join the United States Visa Waiver Program. Taiwan will become the seventh nation in the Asia-Pacific region to obtain visa waiver treatment from the United States after Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, and South Korea.  This program allows citizens of Taiwan to apply for admission to the United States at US ports of entry as nonimmigrant aliens for a period of up to 90 days for business or pleasure without first obtaining a B1/B2 nonimmigrant visa.  Similarly, Taiwan has reciprocated allowing US citizens to travel to Taiwan for a 90-day period without first obtaining a visa.

Under this new designation, Republic of China (ROC) nationals who want to travel to the United States will simply have to register basic information online through ESTA which we discussed in our earlier alert.  The online approval will allow multiple stays of up to 90 days over a two-year period. The People's Republic of China (PRC) does not enjoy the same visa-free travel privilege that Taiwan will now receive.  A State Department official said that while officials in Beijing were aware of the decision to approve Taiwan for membership in the Visa Waiver Program, the United States made no special effort to consult PRC on the decision.  The official noted that the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act specifies that the United States can treat Taiwan as it does any other nation or government with regard to laws concerning international programs.

This initiative is expected to benefit both countries.  The bi-lateral nature of this process will allow US corporations/investors and their Taiwanese counterparts to strengthen ties between the two countries.  This program is also expected to significantly increase the number of Taiwanese visitors to the United States, which presents US corporations with a largely untapped-pool of would-be customers.  More than 240,000 Taiwanese nationals visited the United States in Fiscal Year 2011, spending an estimated US$1.1 billion.  Some reports suggest these numbers may increase by as much as 30%.