'Visa run' not required for foreign students in Taiwan: MOFA

Foreign students in Taiwan do not need to leave country to continue education or change schools

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(CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on Sunday (July 26) announced that foreign students currently residing in Taiwan do not need to go on "visa runs" to continue their studies or transfer to a new school.

An international student recently posted a petition on Change.org calling on MOFA to end the requirement that foreign students leave the country to change their status (commonly referred to as a "visa run"). He claimed that students changing from one master's degree to another, from a bachelor's program to a language program, or from one school to another must all go on a visa run outside the country.

In the petition, he points out that such visa runs are highly difficult now, as many countries have closed their borders to foreigners and flights have been canceled. He added that even if travel to some countries is possible, it exposes the student to the dangers of contracting the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19).

On Sunday, MOFA spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) issued a response to the petition, stating that visa runs are not currently required for students who legally reside in the country. Ou said foreign citizens who hold a visitor's visa or Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) in order to study Mandarin, engage in academic exchanges, visit relatives, or apply for employment can stay in Taiwan if they apply to the National Immigration Agency (NIA) for a student visa to take part in degree programs.

Ou added that students who possess a valid ARC and wish to transfer to another school or further their post-secondary education in Taiwan can do so by applying to the NIA without the need to leave the country. She emphasized that the NIA is in charge of managing applications for ARCs and that students need to consult directly with the agency for details regarding application requirements.

As for those who are currently pursuing a formal degree in Taiwan and intending to register for a Mandarin language program, they do not need to modify the officially stated purpose of their stay. However, Ou made it clear that those who have already completed their degree program should leave the country within the time frame specified on their visas and that they cannot extend their stay by applying to a Mandarin language school.

She said that those whose ARCs have expired must leave the country. They must re-apply for a visa that meets the entry requirements before they can return to Taiwan, said Ou.

The student who created the petition told Taiwan News that he had an ARC as a graduate student at a Taiwanese university but had decided to change programs and schools. He said he had been accepted into a new program and school in January and that his ARC was set to expire on March 31.

He said that he had visited family members in the U.S. in early March with the plan to return to Taiwan on March 9 and visit Hong Kong on March 20 to change to a visitor's visa. Once back in Taiwan, he planned to apply for the new ARC.

However, on March 19, the country barred foreigners from entering as the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak accelerated. He suddenly found himself unable to fly to Hong Kong, and he says that although people with tourist visas have been able to extend their stays, the NIA on March 21 refused to extend his ARC.

He said he had no choice but to stay in Taiwan on an expired ARC. He claims he was told by MOFA, the Bureau of Consular Affairs (BOCA), the NIA, and other government agencies that he must leave the country before he can apply for a fresh ARC for the new semester, which starts in September.

When he tried to board a plane to Hong Kong on June 10, he says he was turned away at the last minute. Confused and frustrated, he then decided to create a petition on Change.org to lobby the government to provide the same extension to students with ARCs that has been provided to those stuck in Taiwan with a visitor visa, a landing visa, and through a visa-waiver program.

In response to MOFA's statement, the student said that his petition was primarily meant for students whose ARC has expired. He said his understanding is that the NIA is tasked with handling such cases and plans to consult with the agency again about his specific situation.