U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on the 2nd of October announced the designation of Taiwan into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) – streamlining travel for thousands of eligible Taiwan passport holders, while maintaining strong security standards.
“Today’s announcement is a major step forward in our long-standing economic partnership with Taiwan,” said Secretary Napolitano. “Taiwan’s participation in the VWP will not only stimulate tourism in the United States, it will also enable us to work together to maintain the strictest security standards.”
Taiwan will join 36 participants in the VWP—which permits visa-free travel to the United States for eligible travelers visiting the United States for 90 days or fewer for business or tourism. In Fiscal Year 2011, the VWP accounted for 18.3 million visits to the United States, or more than 60 percent of tourist and business travelers entering the United States by air.
In accordance with the VWP designation process, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) determined that Taiwan complies with key security and information-sharing requirements – such as enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the United States; timely reporting of lost and stolen passports; and the maintenance of high counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, aviation and document security standards.
Like other VWP travelers, eligible Taiwan passport holders will be required to apply for advanced authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a DHS Web-based system. Eligible Taiwan passport holders with an approved ESTA will be able to visit the United States without visas as of November 1, 2012.
This announcement supports President Obama’s Executive Order on travel and tourism, directing federal agencies to expand the nation’s ability to attract and welcome visitors, while maintaining the highest standards of security. In Fiscal Year 2011, 243,186 visitors from Taiwan traveled to the United States.
The VWP enables nationals of 37 participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business (visitor [B] visa purposes only) for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. The program was established to eliminate unnecessary barriers to travel, stimulating the tourism industry, and permitting the Department of State to focus consular resources in other areas. VWP eligible travelers may apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so. Nationals of VWP countries must meet eligibility requirements to travel without a visa on VWP, and therefore, some travelers from VWP countries are not eligible to use the program. VWP travelers are required to have a valid authorization through the ESTA prior to travel, are screened at the port of entry into the United States, and are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program.
Currently, 37 countries participate in the VWP. Before Taiwan, only four Asian countries, Brunei, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, were in the program.
According to the 2012 forecast of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the United States can expect 4-5 percent average annual growth in tourism over the next five years, and that 65.4 million foreign travelers are projected to visit the United States in 2012 alone. The spring 2012 Travel and Tourism Forecast, released semiannually by the U.S. Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration (ITA), predicts continued strong growth through 2016 following two consecutive visitor volume records set in 2010 and 2011.
Tourists from all world regions are forecast to grow over the five year period, ranging from a low for the Caribbean (+9 percent), to a high for Asia (+49 percent), South America (+47 percent), and Africa (+47 percent). All but three of the top-40 visitor origin countries are forecast to grow from 2011 through 2016. Countries with the largest total growth percentages are China (+198 percent), Brazil (+70 percent), Argentina (+46 percent), Australia (+45 percent), Korea (+35 percent), and Venezuela (+35 percent).
The North America world region is forecast to account for the largest proportion of the total visitor growth of 14 million visitors (42 percent). Asia (25 percent), Western Europe (11 percent), and South America (13 percent) are expected to account for the bulk of the remaining 58 percent of total growth in visitor volume forecast in 2016 compared to 2011 actual volume. The top countries contributing to this total growth in 2016 are Canada (4.47 million additional visitors), China (2.16 million), Mexico (1.54 million), Brazil (1.06 million), and Australia (463 thousand).
Commerce recently released data showing that 62 million international visitors traveled to the U.S. in 2011, generating a record $153 billion in receipts and a $43 billion trade surplus. International and domestic tourism spending increased 8.1 percent, supporting an additional 103,000 jobs for a total of 7.6 million Americans employed in travel and tourism industries or in industries that support them. Further, 1.2 million jobs are supported directly or indirectly by international traveler spending within the United States and on U.S. carriers.