Foreign visitors on visas scramble to leave Taiwan

New regulations insist non-citizens must leave the country before visas expire

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Non-citizens in Taiwan must leave the country before their visas expire. 

Non-citizens in Taiwan must leave the country before their visas expire.  (Taiwan News photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Home, Hong Kong, and Okinawa appear to be the three most popular destinations for non-citizens who need to leave the country after it was announced there would be no visa extensions.

“To prevent transmission of COVID-19,” Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced in a tweet on Wednesday (March 18) new measures to combat the disease, including: “No entry for non-citizens, excluding Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) holders and those with diplomatic and other documentation.”

At a press conference the same day in Taipei, Director-General Phoebe Yeh (葉非比) of the foreign ministry’s Bureau of Consular Affairs (BOCA) clarified that foreigners holding a visitor or landing visa must leave the country before their visas expire. The only exception would be "force majeure" (unforeseeable circumstances that prevent an individual from fulfilling a contract), such as a national disaster, or serious illness.

This has left a lot of non-citizens in Taiwan scrambling, as previously they could ask for an extension of up to 180 days at the immigration agency. This is no longer possible.

David Momphard, whose wife and children are Taiwanese, is an American who has been caught out by the new measures. He is in the process of applying for an ARC but was waiting for FBI background checks to come back.

As a result, he is in limbo, and according to the new regulations he will have to return to the United States, even though flights have been curtailed and prices hiked. Either that, or go to a third country that will accept non-citizens.

Momphard said Taiwan has done a great job so far in containing the disease and believes the authorities will listen to reason. “BOCA updated its website with information right after the announcement.

“It doesn’t address my specific situation, but it clearly makes room for exceptions. I’m confident that if I meet someone at the NIA (National Immigration Agency) I can get some clear guidance.”

Meanwhile, CNA is reporting that a French citizen on a visa run to Singapore was barred from returning to Taiwan, following the new border restrictions. The unnamed man had been intending to prolong his stay in Taiwan after his 90-day landing visa was about to expire.

The Frenchman complained that he had left his belongings at a friend’s house and could not retrieve them. However, non-citizens with ARCs or APRCs (Alien Permanent Resident Card) are being allowed entry to the country.

In Facebook forums on Taiwan there have been discussions on where to go when visas run out, considering flights have been canceled and prices hiked. Many other countries are also banning entry.

As of press time, home (wherever that may be), Hong Kong, and Okinawa were among the top three choices.

However, Hong Kong announced Wednesday it would put all visitors under a two-week quarantine and medical surveillance. Japan, meanwhile, is not currently restricting access to visitors from Taiwan or insisting on quarantine, and Okinawa is the closest island.