EARLIER this year, Taiwan announced it was extending its 14-day visa-free entry trial programme for visitors from Brunei, the Philippines, and Thailand.
The visa-free treatment was expected to continue for another year from Aug 1, 2018, through July 31, 2019, pending further extension in the future after a review of the results.
But this freedom may soon come with stiffer restrictions, following a discovery by officials that tourists and business travellers aren’t the only ones making use of the scheme – sex workers are as well.
According to Taiwan News, there was a collective increase of 410,000 visitors from Thailand, Brunei, and the Philippines over the past two years.
The publication said apart from the regular tourist, visitors from the three countries have also allegedly been engaging in prostitution during their stay in Taiwan.
In April, a Thai national working in southern Taiwan tested positive for HIV, possibly infecting hundreds of clients.
The Thai woman had travelled to Taiwan five times since October last year on the pretext of “sightseeing”.
She confessed to police that she had sex with seven to eight clients a day during her visits to Taiwan, with each trip lasting around 15 days. This amounts to a maximum of 120 customers per visit and a total of 600 over five trips.
Meanwhile, Radio Taiwan International, citing immigration authority figures, reported that a staggering number of 309 Thai women were found to have provided sex services in Taiwan last year, a 1,700 percent increase from the 18 recorded the year before.
And that’s not all.
Bangkok Post quoted a Thai source who has been living in Taiwan for more than a decade as saying that in addition to the problem of prostitution, she has also seen many Thai workers fall into illegal drug habits.
These habits have spread to local communities and are reasons why foreign workers in Taiwan are very closely monitored by the state.
To address the increase in such offences reportedly committed by Southeast Asian travelers, Taiwanese authorities are now considering adding restrictions to the visa-free scheme.
Minister without Portfolio Chang Jing Sen said the government may reduce the number of visa-free visits from the three nations from six to just twice a year. If approved by the Taiwanese Parliament, the measures will be enforced from Aug 1, 2019.
How this will impact the number of Thais travelling to Taiwan remains to be seen, however, considering the fact that Taiwan is now the fourth most visited destination in Asia by Thai tourists, after Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.
If Taiwan were to completely stop offering visa-free entry to tourists from Thailand altogethe, the number of Thais travelling to Taiwan “could drop by 50 percent”, according to Mira Travel Agency sale executive Chotika Chotsirimethakorn.