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Taiwan gets into Visa Waiver Program but no senior officials attend Taiwan business conference

Taiwan gets into Visa Waiver Program but no senior officials attend Taiwan business conference

Taiwan has officially been admitted to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, allowing Taiwanese to more easily visit the United States, but no senior State or Defense Department officials attended the annual U.S.-Taiwan business conference this week.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Taiwan’s admittance Tuesday, adding the island to the list of 36 countries that have already joined the program.

"Today’s announcement is a major step forward in our long-standing economic partnership with Taiwan," Napolitano said. "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."

A senior State Department official speaking to reporters on background touted the economic benefits of Taiwan’s entrance into the Visa Waiver Program and commented on the Obama administration’s decision not to send any high-level officials to the annual U.S.-Taiwan Business Council meeting late last month in Hershey, PA.

Taiwanese and American organizers were notified in September that despite the participation of senior State Department and Defense officials at the conference in previous years, this year Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Mark Lippert and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell would not attend due to "scheduling issues."

The State Department official said the department sent officials from the Office of Taiwan Coordination, the section of EAP that deals with Taiwan issues.

"We did have a number of folks from the State Department and I understand from the Department of Defense attend yesterday and today," the official said. "Even though we did not have a formal speaker there, we did have a number of participants."

Meanwhile, President Obama’s 2010 promise to admit Poland into the program remains unfulfilled. Poland is the only member of the 25-country "Schengen area" not able to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa in advance.

A senior DHS official said that a key reason Poland was not admitted to the program was because its visa refusal rate — the percentage of people rejected for tourism visas because they are judged to be immigration violation risks — had not fallen below 3 percent.

President Obama has expressed support for legislation called the Jolt Act, which would speed Poland’s admittance into the program, but Congress hasn’t passed the bill.

Obama’s 2010 promise came in a press conference with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

"I am going to make this a priority," Obama said, sitting alongside Komorowski. "And I want to solve this issue before very long. My expectation is, is that this problem will be solved during my presidency."