Controls in place as visa-free policy raises security issues: MOFA

Taipei-The government has taken measures to strengthen border security and immigration controls to counter an apparent rise in illegal activities by people entering Taiwan visa-free, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Saturday.

A Control Yuan report released Friday found that sex or drug trafficking cases involving Thai nationals have risen since they were allowed to enter Taiwan in August 2016 under an expanded visa-free entry program.

MOFA spokesman Andrew Lee (???) said the National Immigration Agency has compiled a list of suspicious people and taken measures such as strengthening border checks and controls to protect the country's borders from the illegal movement of contraband and people.

Among the indicators of possible involvement in illegal activity, for example, is when a Thai national makes frequent trips to Taiwan and stays for most of the 30 days allowed under the visa-free policy.

Police at the central and local levels have also stepped up enforcement operations to ensure security, Lee said.

But a MOFA source suggested that the tougher checks Lee was referring to have been in place for much of this year, when the incidence of crime among visitors has increased, raising questions about how effective they may be.

Taiwan has expanded its visa-free program under the government's New Southbound Policy, aimed at building closer ties with countries in Southeast and South Asia.

As part of the policy, Thai and Brunei passport holders were given visa-free treatment on a one-year trial basis in August 2016, and the government announced in April that the program was being extended to July 31, 2018 because of the large rise in visitor numbers.

But during the first nine months of 2017, nearly 200,000 Thai nationals visited Taiwan without a visa, with 255 of them, or 0.12 percent of the total, later found involved in illegal activities in the country.

That was in contrast to 2016, when 193,200 Thais visited Taiwan and only 18, or 0.0093 percent of the total, were found to be engaged in illegal activities, according to Lee.

Meanwhile, a nine-month trial of a visa-free initiative for Filipinos was launched on Nov. 1 and will last until July 31, 2018.

The government will determine whether the visa-exemption programs for people from Thailand, Brunei and the Philippines will continue after their trial periods end, based on their effectiveness, according to Lee.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel