Taipei brings in free online visa to boost travel

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 September, 2010, 12:00am

Hongkongers may not yet enjoy visa-free entry to Taiwan, but from today they can get free visas - applied for online and printed out at home.

The measure was announced by Taiwan's government yesterday, as Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah completed his four-day historic visit to Taipei to promote ties.

But the offer was not greeted with any reciprocal measure from Hong Kong, with Tsang saying arrangements were under review.

Taiwan's National Immigration Agency announced the measure yesterday, a day after Mainland Affairs Council chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan said her government would simplify visa application procedures for Hong Kong travellers.

The move came after two high-level semi-official bodies from the two places met for the first time on Monday. The Hong Kong-Taiwan Economic and Cultural Co-operation and Promotion Council (ECCPC) was set up in Hong Kong in April, and the Taiwan-Hong Kong Economic and Cultural Co-operation Council (ECCC) was launched in Taipei the following month.

Previously, Hong Kong passport holders could either apply for a Taiwan visa on the immigration agency's website and collect it at the airport before boarding, or obtain a 30-day visa on arrival for HK$75.

From today, applicants can print their own visa from the website. On arrival in Taiwan, they present the visa with their passport at immigration and officers stamp the visa, but not the passport. The visa fee is waived. The visas are also available to Macau citizens.

To be eligible for the visa, travellers must be Hong Kong- or Macau-born or have visited Taiwan before. The visa will be valid for 90 days, with a maximum stay of 30 days.

Lee Ling-fong, director of the agency's entry and exit affairs division, said the move aimed to make the system more convenient and bring more Hongkongers to Taiwan. 'There will be celebrations for the Double Tenth Festival in October and the Taipei International Flora Expo in November. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the nation. We hope to attract more tourists from Hong Kong and Macau,' she said.

The agency last year issued 340,000 visas to Hongkongers who applied online. Lee said she hoped the annual number would increase to 350,000 under the new system.

'We hope to help foster exchange. The Taiwan side has already extended so much friendliness. I hope Hong Kong will respond with equal friendliness by, for example, granting Taiwan visitors visa-free entry or cutting some application fees,' Lee said.

Speaking before he left Taipei, Tsang said he did not know the details of the new visa system. But when asked if Hong Kong would offer a reciprocal arrangement, he said: 'We welcome any measure which provides convenience for Hong Kong and Taiwan people travelling between the two places. We review our own system from time to time to see what changes we can make to improve the arrangements.'

Under the current iPermit scheme, Taiwan residents can apply for an electronic permit to visit Hong Kong but must do so via authorised airlines or agents. An iPermit costs HK$50 for a 30-day stay. Holders of Mainland Travel Permits for Taiwan Residents can stay in Hong Kong without a visa for up to seven days.

Taiwan residents made a total of two million trips to Hong Kong last year, while Hongkongers took 600,000 tours to Taiwan. The Taiwan government has been calling for a mutual visa waiver since the Kuomintang returned to rule in 2008.

At a meeting between Lai and Tsang on Monday, the Taiwan minister again raised the issue. Tsang said the government would look into it.

Paul Leung Yiu-lam, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents, said he expected the number of visas for Hong Kong visitors to Taiwan to jump by a double-digit percentage under the online system. That could see a rise in hotel room rates, especially as Taiwan is opened up to more mainland travellers, Leung said. Political instability and violence in places such as Thailand and the Philippines would likely boost Taiwan's appeal as a holiday destination, Leung said.

Under review

Hongkongers can visit Taiwan free of charge, but the visa cost, in HK dollars, for Taiwan residents to visit here is: $50