Taipei, Aug. 31 (CNA) Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced Saturday that a review of visa-free treatment for tourists from Thailand, Brunei, the Philippines and Russia will be extended from the current annual basis to every three years from August 2020.
"The visa-free treatment granted to the four countries will expire July 31 2020. By that time, evaluation on whether to extend the privilege will be conducted every three years," MOFA spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) said in a statement.
Under the current program, the visa-free privileges granted to tourists from the four countries are reviewed every year.
Taiwan began allowing 14-day visa-free entry for citizens from Thailand and Brunei in August 2016, as part of President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) New Southbound Policy aimed at boosting exchanges with neighbors in the south.
The coverage was expanded to the Philippines in November 2017 and to Russia in September 2018.
The visa-free treatment to these countries was extended in previous years due to low involvement in illegal activities by citizens from these countries while in Taiwan. Among them, the maximum days of stay allowed for Russian tourists were extended from 14 days to 21 days in July.
Meanwhile, the government decided not to include Indonesia and Vietnam into its visa-free program "due to border management and national security considerations," MOFA said. However, the approval procedures of visa applications from citizens of the two countries will be simplified.
"Visa applications by citizens of Indonesia and Vietnam will be reviewed by Taiwanese tourism officials based in those countries instead of sending the applications back to Taiwan, and visas will be issued directly by local Taiwan representative offices to shorten the processing time," MOFA said.
Meanwhile, MOFA revealed that related agencies are now discussing ways to lure more tourists from six countries in the Middle East that are covered in Taiwan's electronic visa program -- Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait.
Taiwan is keen on developing tourism markets in the Gulf states, since tourists from there have high spending power, MOFA said, adding that it is confident of achieving this goal because Taiwan has been creating a Muslim-friendly environment and was recently ranked third on a list of the most Islamic-friendly travel destinations in the Global Muslim Travel Index 2019.
MOFA's announcement came after a Chinese ban on independent tourist travel to Taiwan that took effect Aug. 1. Beijing's move is expected to have a negative impact on Taiwan's tourism performance over the next few quarters.