Washington, Dec. 22 (CNA) Taiwan's nomination for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) signals an important step forward in the ties between the United States and Taiwan, Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, said Thursday.
It shows that U.S.-Taiwan relations are "in a good place," Hammond-Chambers said in an interview with CNA shortly after the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) announced Taiwan's long-awaited candidacy for the VWP.
Hammond-Chambers said that as head of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, he welcomes the candidacy and hopes that Taiwanese passport holders will be granted visa-free privilege very soon.
However, the VWP candidacy does not signal any major changes in U.S.-Taiwan relations in the near future, he said.
AIT Acting Director Eric H. Madison announced in Taipei on Thursday that Taiwan had been officially listed as a candidate for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, paving the way for Taiwan to join the VWP.
Madison said the decision represented the culmination of hard work and cooperation between the authorities in Taiwan and the United States.
Like all VWP candidate countries, Taiwan will first need to pass an in-depth, on-site evaluation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Madison said. Once the procedure is completed, the department will notify the U.S. Congress of its decision regarding Taiwan's admission, he said.
However, he said, there is no timeframe for when Taiwan may actually qualify.
Meanwhile, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECO) in Washington, Taiwan's top representative office in the United States, expressed appreciation to the U.S. administration for its assistance over the past year in speeding up the VWP candidacy process.
The development was commendable, particularly in light of the fact that there are no formal diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the U.S., a TECO official said.
The VWP, which grants visa-free stays of up to 90 days in the U.S., extends to only 36 countries, the official noted.
Taiwan's nomination was decided after TECO officials signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice last week on Preventing and Combating Serious Crime, according to the TECO.
Taiwanese expats living in the greater Washington, D.C. area said Taiwan's admission to the VWP would save visitors about NT$4,340 (US$145) in visa fees and spare them the tedious process of applying for a U.S. visa.
Chen Hui-ching, head of a Chinese merchants association on the U.S. East Coast, said her sister in Taiwan had visited her only once in the past three decades because of the difficulties Taiwanese passport holders face in obtaining a U.S. visa.
Chen said her brother-in-law, also in Taiwan, had applied for a U.S. visa three times but was turned down each time.
(By Jay Chou, Tony Liao and Deborah Kuo)