Taiwan has decided to halt issuing visas for groups of Vietnamese tourists under a special program launched in 2015.
The move follows 152 Vietnamese tourists going missing after arriving in Taiwan last week.
A consular officer from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office confirmed to VnExpress on December 28 that Taiwan will temporarily cease issuance of visas for 102 travel agencies in Vietnam.
The travel agencies had been designated by the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau to apply for visas under the special program for six countries.
The Kuan Hung visa program, a part of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy to establish closer ties with selected nations, made it easier for citizens of Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam to visit Taiwan by applying for electronic visas without paying for visa fees.
The policy also allows simplified visa procedures for groups of five tourists or more from the 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.
Apart from the visa waiver program, the issuance of other visas for Vietnamese citizens remained unchanged, the officer said.
As of December 28, Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency (NIA) says that it has found 17 of the 152 tourists who went missing late last week.
Five of the missing tourists were detained on December 28 in Xinbei City and nine others were found on December 27. Three others have flown back to Vietnam, leaving 135 still unaccounted for.
Vietnam has gained notoriety for several cases of tourists absconding after arriving in Taiwan under the special visa program.
Official statistics from Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau shows 225,702 foreign tourists have arrived in Taiwan under the visa program since 2015.
Of them, 566 people have gone missing to work illegally in the territory, and Vietnamese citizens account for 72% of the total, the Focus Taiwan newspaper reported on December 26.
As a result of the sharp increase in the number of unaccounted Vietnamese tourists, Taiwanese authorities have shortened the length of visas issued to Vietnamese from 30 to 14 days.
Vietnam’s tourism ministry has ordered urgent probe into the latest disappearing act.
"This is a serious incident which could tarnish the reputation of Vietnam in the eyes of international friends," said Nguyen Ngoc Thien, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism.VnExpress