Taiwan Gambles On Visa-Free Entry For Citizens Of The Poorer Philippines

Photo via forbes.com

By Ralph Jennings/forbes.com – Filipinos will be able to travel visa free to Taiwan over a trial period to be announced by September, the foreign ministry says. It’s a bold move. Most of the 138,000 Filipinos in Taiwan come for work, on contracts tightly controlled by labor brokers, in low-wage factory production or in-home care. They take those jobs because they pay more than what’s available at home, a glaring sign of the socioeconomic distance between them: Taiwan is materially well-off, while about a quarter of Filipinos live in poverty.

The obvious risk of visa-free entry is that people reach Taiwan visa free, find a job and work illegally instead of going back.

Philippine nationals will still be able to reach Taiwan for a few years at a time as “overseas Filipino workers” or OFWs as they’re often called at home. But under a visa waiver, tourists would be able to deplane in Taiwan on flights from Manila much like people from developed countries and get a temporary stay stamp. Taiwan wants Filipinos, along with other citizens of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nation bloc, to visit the island for tourism. The boost would advance Taiwan’s “New Southbound Policy,” which calls for shifting the focus of its economic development away from its traditional source–China–and toward the equally populous, fast-growing mega-region of South and Southeast Asia.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry did not provide details Monday such as expected visa waiver times — 15 or 30 days, for example — or the length of the whole trial period. Manila’s de facto embassy in Taipei says it’s also waiting and that when the idea first came up a lot of Filipinos expressed interest in traveling to Taiwan. Would-be tourists using a Philippine passport now must wait a week, pay 2,400 pesos ($48.30) and prove income sources to get Taiwan visas.

Separating travel from long-term stays for work is the “stumbling block” in the foreign ministry’s calculations on how to offer visa waivers, says Gerry de Belen, information officer with the de facto embassy.

Currently 73 foreign governments allow Filipinos visa-free entry, but most are other developing countries with a few exceptions such as Hong Kong (14 days) and Singapore (30 days). Some require conditions such as proof of visas to third countries. Neither the United States nor any Western European countries are on the list.

Taiwan may be able to accept a few visa waiver violators if a boost in tourism stokes the New Southbound Policy, a big deal for President Tsai Ing-wen’s push to stabilize the slow-growing economy. Per diplomatic protocol, Taiwanese business people should eventually be able to visit the Philippines visa free if the waiver rules hold. Manila now requires visas but purely pro forma, not because Taiwanese are likely to overstay. Visa applications require a wait, a fee and two trips to a Philippine consular office.

“It could be win-win for both,” says Carl Thayer, Southeast Asia-specialized emeritus professor of politics at The University of New South Wales in Australia. Reciprocity, he says, “eases red tape.”

Tourists from Thailand, also poorer than Taiwan, have been allowed to visit for 30 days visa free since August for a one-year trial, notes Nathan Liu, international affairs and diplomacy professor at Ming Chuan University in Taiwan. Taiwanese may get to enter Thailand on the same basis. “This is a gesture to express goodwill to the New Southbound countries,” Liu says.

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