TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Taiwanese-American man with a Taiwanese passport found himself stranded at the airport after being refused entry into the country because he did not know he needed a special visa.
At 5 a.m. on Sunday (Aug. 29), Frank Cheng, 36, arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport after a long flight from San Franciso. However, upon entering customs, he was denied entry when he was unable to produce a national identification card or a special visa for non-citizens in his category.
Cheng soon found himself stuck in a transfer waiting area of the airport for many hours without food or drink. He said he could not understand why he was "treated like a criminal," as he was only trying to visit his Taiwanese mother and believed he had followed all the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines only to fall through a bureaucratic "loophole."
Immigration officials told Cheng that although he has a brand new Taiwanese passport, he is not allowed to enter the country without advanced permission because he lacks a national identification card, which is only issued to individuals with a household registration. Cheng then offered to board a flight he had later planned to take from Taipei to Hong Kong, where he is a resident, but the airline said current CDC border restrictions dictate he had to return to the U.S. immediately.
The National Immigration Agency (NIA) later approved his request to travel to Hong Kong, but because his PCR report had already expired, the airline refused to help him rebook his flight. Cheng alleges that airline staff did not assist him in finding a place to get tested again at the airport because "basically, they didn’t want to help."
After heated negotiations with EVA Air management, Cheng said the airline said it would use the Hong Kong flight to cover the cost of his return ticket to San Francisco. He said that after "raising my voice," he was finally handed a box of bread and a beverage after sitting in the waiting area for 12 hours.
According to Cheng, both his parents are Taiwanese, but he was born in California. From the age of eight to 15, he lived in Taiwan and received his passport during this period.
He said that he had never used the passport before as an adult, having always used his U.S. one instead. Cheng had been hoping to visit his mother, who currently lives in Taiwan, and opted to use his Taiwanese passport this time around amid the COVID pandemic.
According to Taiwan's Nationality Act (國籍法), Cheng is considered an "unregistered national," or a national without household registration (NWHOR). NWHORs do not have an automatic right to stay in Taiwan, working rights, or voting rights.
When NWHORs with Taiwanese passports wish to travel to the country, they must first apply for an Exit & Entry Permit with a Taiwanese representative office in advance. When Cheng posted about his plight on Facebook, one netizen who had had an NWHOR passport in the past called it a "fantasy passport" because "it is of no use by itself in the real world."
Cheng said that Taiwanese representative offices should explain the limitations of the passports when they are provided to NWHORs. As for the airline, Cheng believes that staff should have not allowed him to board the flight without the required travel documents.
He described the process as being treated like a "criminal who doesn't even deserve even the basic human rights." He feels the whole snafu could have been avoided if airline personnel had more carefully inspected his travel documents before departure.
Cheng also said that the airline could have "done a better job assisting me with my return, instead of just leaving me here high and dry." His return flight to San Franciso departed at 7:45 p.m. Sunday evening.