Taiwan is the latest destination to look into making it easier for Chinese tourists to visit by lowering visa requirements. However, unlike many other destinations mulling similar initiatives, Taiwan is a major recipient of Chinese tourists already, consistently ranking among the top 10 destinations for Chinese tourists every year. Instead, Taiwan’s motivation for the move comes as Chinese visitation has slowed down after relations between Taiwan’s government and China’s communist party soured in 2016.
The move also comes during a local election year in Taiwan, with Chinese tourism typically drying up around elections for obvious (and Chinese government mandated) reasons. China is also believed to have implemented further restrictions on group travel to Taiwan, bearing similarities to China’s South Korean quasi-travel ban. It should be noted, however, that some industry stakeholders maintain that the recent drop in Chinese tour groups is due to a change in travel laws pertaining tour guides—and not a South Korea-style travel ban.
Tense cross-strait relations have led Taiwan to restrict Chinese tourist arrivals on the basis of their finances
Due to the geographic proximity between China and Taiwan, as well as various political and national security concerns, Taiwan has maintained a relatively strict tourism visa regime for Chinese tourists—while nevertheless being successful in attracting a large number of Chinese visitors. At present, Chinese travelers—whether group travelers or free independent travelers (FITs)—are required to demonstrate bank account savings worth NT$200,000 (US$6,718).
Now, however, Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior is proposing an amendment to laws pertaining visa regulations for Chinese tourists which would lower the bank savings threshold by half. According to the ministry, the new NT$100,000 (US$3,359) savings requirement would apply to both group and independent travelers.
To lure more Chinese FITs, Taiwan is lowering the financial requirements for entry
While China’s growing willingness to limit group travel to further political goals may be a clear encouragement for destinations in China’s periphery to double down on Chinese FITs, Taiwan is nevertheless also mulling new regulations for FITs that may slightly complicate the visa application process.
In response to what Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency describes as “illegal activities” undertaken by Chinese individuals visiting as independent travelers, the Ministry of Interior proposes that Chinese FITs must provide approximate travel itineraries when applying for Taiwan visas.
A major concern for the Taiwanese government is Chinese “tourists” coming to Taiwan to work
“There have been cases of Chinese people coming to Taiwan in the guise of tourists but who were actually here to make money by engaging in street begging or street performances,” Hsu Chien-lin (徐健麟), head of the National Immigration Agency’s public relations section, told Taiwan’s Central News Agency.
However, Hsu dismissed the notion that raised requirements for Chinese FITs would act as a discouragement. “If they come to Taiwan truly for tourism purposes, they will have hotel reservations and a rough idea of their possible itineraries,” Hsu said.
Whether slashing the financial requirement for Chinese visitors in half will be enough to offset China’s limitations on tourism to Taiwan remains to be seen. More important, perhaps, is that China’s more profitable independent travelers won’t be put off by a more inquisitive visa application process.