Foreign nationals in Taiwan granted 30-day visa extension (update)

CNA file photo

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan will grant an automatic 30-day visa extension to foreign nationals who entered the country on or before March 21, reversing a policy announced just three days ago that would have forced people out once their visas expired.

All travelers who entered Taiwan on or before March 21, 2020 on a visitor visa or landing visa or through a visa-waiver program will be granted an automatic 30-day extension, with the exception of overstayers, the Bureau of Consular Affairs (BOCA) announced on its website.

“No application is required. The total period of stay cannot exceed 180 days,” said the bureau, which is under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

It noted, however, that “these conditions are subject to change and may be adjusted as circumstances require.”

On March 18, the bureau announced several measures to tighten border controls amid the growing spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) around the world.

That included requiring all foreign nationals in Taiwan on a visitor visa or landing visa or with visa-free status to leave the country when their visa expired.

The government also banned the entry of most foreign nationals into the country starting at midnight Wednesday to try to keep the disease at bay.

When asked in more detail about forcing foreign nationals visiting Taiwan to leave the country, especially at a time when most countries in the world have imposed border controls, the BOCA suggested there would be exceptions to the rule.

That apparently only led to more questions, leading the bureau to announce the visa extension.

By relaxing Taiwan’s strict travel restrictions, the government is taking into consideration border control measures and flight bans implemented by other jurisdictions around the world to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, the bureau said.

The 30-day visa extension should be able to ease most of the common problems faced by foreign nationals as a result of Taiwan’s stricter border control measures, Chou Chung-hsiung (周中興), deputy director-general of the BOCA, told CNA.

As to foreign nationals who have overstayed their visas in Taiwan, the National Immigration Agency (NIA) announced the Expanded Overstayers Voluntary Departure Program on Friday.

Under the amnesty program, overstayers who turn themselves in from March 20 to June 30 will face only light penalties. They will not be put in detention, they will not be banned from entering Taiwan in the future, and they only have to pay a minimal fine of NT$2,000 (US$66), according to the NIA.

Overstayers apprehended after the amnesty period will be subject to penalties that include detention, a maximum fine of NT$10,000 and an entry ban of one to eight years, according to the NIA.

“Once the COVID-19 pandemic eases, the NIA will strengthen enforcement and launch nationwide sweeps against people who have overstayed their visas,” the agency said in a statement.

The amnesty program was largely prompted by concerns that undocumented migrant workers would be reluctant to get care if they developed coronavirus symptoms for fear of being arrested and then repatriated.

Taiwan’s visa policy announced Wednesday caught many people off guard, including foreign spouses who were in the process of applying for a spousal visa to stay in Taiwan.

In response, a NIA official told CNA on Saturday that spouses may still have problems.

The official said that if the foreign spouse entered Taiwan visa-free or on a visitor visa, he or she will not be allowed to apply for a spousal visa in Taiwan or convert a visitor visa into a spousal visa unless the visitor visa has at least 60 days of validity and did not come with a “no extension” stamp.