By Joseph Yeh
The China Post — The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday announced that a four-month trial run of new procedures requiring visa applicants to complete passport applications in person will be launched next month. If the trial run, scheduled to run from March 1 until June 30, proves to be successful, the new passport application procedures will kick off officially in July, announced the MOFA.
”A total of 124 household registration offices nationwide agreed to participate in the trial run during the period,” Thomas Chen, director-general of the ministry’s Bureau of Consular Affairs said during a press conference held in the MOFA yesterday. His bureau hopes all 369 household registration offices in Taiwan and its offshore islands will join the project in the future. Currently 60 percent of all Taiwanese people commission travel agencies to apply for passports on their behalf, he said, adding that one can still do so during the upcoming trial period. However, people are encouraged to file their documents in person at one of the three branches of the consular bureau or visit one of the 124 household registration offices to have their identities confirmed before entrusting a travel agency to file the applications on their behalf, Chen added. He noted that the new procedure could be initially inconvenient for nationals but it is being done to enhance Taiwan’s passport security. It is also a must if the country wants to be given entry to visa-free programs in some other countries. Chen did not specify which country he was referring to, but the trial run is apparently being done in response to the United States’ repeated demands. Washington has for years expressed concern over Taiwan’s passport application and issuance procedures, which do not require applicants to appear in person. Since passport applicants are not compelled to make appear personally during the four-month run, Chen noted that the MOFA has also prepared incentives to serve as encouragement to those who take part in the trial run. A lottery draw will be held every month during the period to pick 100 nationals who used the new procedures. Each of them will be given NT$ 1,000 worth of 7-11 coupons. Additionally, two lucky winners will be given airplane tickets from either Taipei to Tokyo or Taipei to Singapore during the monthly draw, he added.