AIT still enthusiastic about public promotion of VWP (update)

Taipei, Nov. 30 (CNA) The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said Friday it remains eager to inform the Taiwan public about the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), although there are no plans to mark the first month of Taiwan's inclusion. "We remain eager to be in touch with the traveling public," said AIT spokesman Mark Zimmer. The AIT, which represents U.S. interests in Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties, has carried out several successful public outreach events in the busiest areas of Taipei, including night markets, shopping malls and major transportation hubs. At the promotional events, flyers were handed out to the public and information was offered on how to register for the VWP, in line with the requirements of the program. "We may conduct other open-air events if we see a demand," Zimmer told CNA. The U.S. government will continue to encourage travelers from Taiwan to take advantage of the VWP, he said. The focus on promoting travel to the U.S. will continue through and after the Lunar New Year, Zimmer said, but added that he was not aware of any specific plans focused on the Lunar New Year. With Taiwan's admission to the VWP on Nov. 1, Taiwanese citizens are no longer required to obtain a U.S. visa at a cost of NT$4,800 (US$163.9) per application. However, Taiwanese travelers, like citizens of other countries in the VWP program, need to apply online for an electronic travel authorization for a fee of US$14. The authorization is valid for a two-year period. Zimmer said the AIT does not have detailed, specific statistics on how many Taiwanese passport holders have visited the U.S. under the program in November or how many have been rejected, since it has been only one month. "We have had positive feedback from travelers, and hope they will continue to take advantage of this efficient system for tourist and short-term business travel," he said. Asked whether any Taiwan nationals traveling to the U.S. under the VWP had been denied entry, Zimmer declined to give any information, citing the Privacy Act. As for the institute's plan to scale down its visa affairs section, Zimmer said such reductions have not yet begun. "When that time does come, we will do so in strict accordance with local labor laws," he said, adding that it is an inevitable result of the program and will be very difficult to do so. (By James Lee, Emmanuelle Tzeng and Elaine Hou)