New visa-free program for Taiwanese will bring more tourist revenue to Silicon Valley

Life is about to get much easier for Taiwanese technologists who regularly commute between Taipei and Silicon Valley: They can now make the cross-Pacific trek visa-free.
Americans have long been able to fly to Taiwan without a visa. But until Thursday, Taiwanese always had to apply for a visa — something that had irked the government and citizens on the island, many of whom have deep professional and personal ties to California. Silicon Valley has a large Taiwanese-American population.
The first wave of visa-free Taiwanese to the Bay Area  arrived at San Francisco International Airport Thursday afternoon aboard Taiwan-based carrier EVA Air.
“I feel so proud about it,” said Manfred Peng, press director at Taiwan’s Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco. The office is Taiwan’s de facto consulate general. The United States, though a strong supporter of Taiwan, does not recognize the island as an independent country. China has long claimed the island known for its strong semiconductor industry and broader technology sector is a renegade province.
Taiwan is the only entity that does not have official diplomatic ties with the United States to get visa-free status. Only 36 countries enjoyed visa-free treatment before Taiwan joined the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. On Oct. 2,  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Taiwan’s membership in the program.
“Very few countries get the visa-free treatment,” Peng said. “So many engineers from Taiwan travel back and forth to Silicon Valley. There is big interest in this.”
Last year, about 450,000 Taiwanese visited the United States, according to Peng. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expects the number of Taiwanese visiting the United States to jump to 600,000 next year because of the visa-free waiver. It estimates that could bring an additional $1.8 billion in tourist revenue to the United States.

The program is big news in Taiwan, said Hans Tsai, 25, who arrived on EVA Air Thursday afternoon. The visa-free program prompted him to make his first trip to the Bay Area for a 22-day vacation.

“Before, you had to wait four to six weeks” to get a visa, Tsai said. The previous visa process, which cost $200, included an interview he viewed as intimidating with officials from the American Institute in Taiwan, a nonprofit that represents U.S. interests on the island.
“I was scared of the interview,” he said. Under the visa-free program, Tsai applied online and paid a $14 processing fee.
“People in Taiwan have been wanting this for a long time,” he said.



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