“This could significantly boost interest,” said founder Mark Hsu. “I think at least for short-term language programmes, it will put the US on more equal footing with Canada and the UK which have already granted visa waiver travel to Taiwanese citizens.”
The US has traditionally been the top study destination for Taiwanese, however Taiwanese student weeks on US English programmes fell 47% between 2009 and 2010 – part of a broader shift from and language and higher study overseas towards work and travel programmes driven by a slow economy.
In what will be welcome news for US ELT providers, the number of Taiwanese travelling to the US is estimated to rise by 30% through the programme – up from 290,000 annually.
However, others say the scheme’s 90-day timeframe limits the benefits. “My colleagues in Taiwan feel the US visa waiver will increase short-term winter and summer vacation bookings, and we have begun to see that,” said John Nicholson of the ELS chain, which runs language schools across the UK and US.
“But the 18-hour, 90-day limit versus the longer and more flexible UK and Canada waivers [both six months] means the benefits will be limited to these seasonal programmes for recreational learners.” For example English for academic purposes pathways, ELS’s “primary focus” in Taiwan, will not benefit.
John Lin, past president of the Taiwan Overseas Study Association agreed demand for short term language programmes could rise, but work and travel – the mainstay for many Taiwanese agents – would remain static. “The VWP is just used for B1 and B2 visas not for J1 and F1 visas… Study and work and travel programmes will keep the same from my point of view,” he said.
“The benefits will be limited to these seasonal programmes for recreational learners”
Thirty six other countries including France, Lithuania and South Korea are members of the VWP which speeds up and lowers the cost of visiting the US. Starting November 1, Taiwanese nationals travelling to the US will have to register basic information online and pay a US$14 fee instead of the previous $163.70.
“Today’s announcement is a major step forward in our long-standing economic partnership with Taiwan,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano last week. “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.”