Taiwan cancels many visa applications after 152 Vietnamese tourists ‘disappear’

By Phan Anh   December 25, 2018 | 11:09 pm PT
Taiwan cancels many visa applications after 152 Vietnamese tourists ‘disappear’
The Liou He night market in Kaohsiung City, one of the most famous night markets in Taiwan. Photo by Shutterstock/Richie Chan
Taiwan is searching for 152 Vietnamese tourists who went missing in the southwestern city of Kaohsiung late last week.

The Central News Agency Tuesday cited Taiwan's National Immigration Agency (NIA) as saying 153 Vietnamese tourists arrived in Taiwan’s south-western city of Kaohsiung on December 21 and 23 in four groups.

23 tourists who arrived on December 21 later strayed off from their groups between Nantou and New Taipei’s Sanchong District the same day, while 129 others who came on December 23 went missing on December 23 and December 24.

The only one who wasn’t missing was a tour group leader, according to Taiwanese travel agency ETholiday, which was responsible for receiving the tourists.

The tourists’ itineraries were arranged by the Vietnam’s International Holidays Trading Travel Co.. They applied for electronic visas under a program launched in 2015, which requires no visa fees for travelers from Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and India.

The program, a part of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy to establish closer ties with selected nations, also allows simplified visa procedures for groups of five tourists or more from the aforementioned six countries, as long as they are organized by "quality travel agencies" recognized by the Tourism Bureau or if they are part of company-sponsored groups.

ETholiday reported the situation of the 152 missing tourists to Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau, the NIA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The agency believes that the tourists faked the purpose of their visit.

The Tourism Bureau subsequently asked the foreign ministry to suspend future visa applications from the Vietnamese agency responsible for the missing tourists.

In response, the foreign ministry has not only canceled the visas of the 152 missing tourists, but also that of 182 other Vietnamese applications submitted under the same program.

The NIA has also formed a task force including members of the local police to hunt the missing persons. They will also investigate the case for human trafficking and whether human smugglers were involved.

Once found, the tourists would be deported for violating Taiwan’s Immigration Act and banned from entering the territory for an unspecified amount of time, the NIA said Tuesday.

This is Taiwan's biggest case of missing tourists in recent years, said Cheng Ying-huei, director of the Tourism Bureau’s International Affairs Department. The number is more than the total of tourists that have gone missing in Taiwan over the past three years.

Ever since it lifted a 10-year ban on certain categories of Vietnamese workers in 2015, Taiwan has been a top destination for Vietnamese looking for jobs overseas. 65,000 Vietnamese workers were sent to Taiwan this year, accounting for nearly half of the total number who went overseas that year.

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