The Reason Taiwan Wants U.S. Immigration Preclearance

Late last year Taiwan asked the U.S. government to set up immigration preclearance center at the Taipei Taoyuan airport. And it’s not for the reason that many travelers assume.

  • It turns out Taiwan wants U.S. immigration preclearance for the same reason frequent flyer award seats and fare deals are going to be easily available on flights between the U.S. and Taipei for quite awhile.

  • The goal is greater cooperation with the U.S. especially on security. There are going to be more flights (even with empty seats) between the two countries. Taiwan is looking for a security buffer from China, and to bolster U.S. ties and support, making it more difficult to invade in advance of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s expected re-election next year.

  • Some readers were skeptical of this take, but several U.S. Senators have written a letter in support of preclearance for Taiwan – an odd issue otherwise – and emphasize that it will “reinforce the importance of our relationship with Taiwan.” This will antagonize China.

What Is Immigration Preclearance And Why It’s Offered

U.S. Immigration preclearance means you clear immigration and customers at your departure airport, before getting on the plane, rather than when you arrive in the U.S. This way you get off at your destination city in the U.S. as though you had been on a domestic flight.

There are currently preclearance airports in

  • Dublin and Shannon, Ireland
  • Aruba
  • Freeport and Nassau, Bahamas
  • Bermuda
  • Abu Dhabi
  • Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg in Canada

Lucky at One Mile at a Time is correct that this is often an inconvenience to frequent flyers. If you have Global Entry it may not save you any time at all through the immigration process. You often have to show up at the preclearance facility an hour before your flight departs. And there’s often little to do once you get through.

However the primary reason these facilities are offered is not passenger convenience. While Lucky notes, “airports seem to view these facilities as a competitive advantage, marketing it as a way to have a more seamless trip” this is truly secondary.

Instead the primary impetus for these facilities is security cooperation. The U.S. prefers to stop people from boarding planes before they reach U.S. soil, rather than turning them around once they arrive in the States. Other countries like these facilities because they like security cooperation with the United States. And this explains why Taiwan wants U.S. immigration preclearance for the main Taipei international airport.

Why Taiwan Wants U.S. Immigration Preclearance In Taipei

Hong Kong’s national security law was imposed on June 30. It represents the end of ‘one country, two systems’. And it demonstrates Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aggressiveness in advance of the Twentieth Party Congress where he will seek election to a third term in late 2022.

Taiwan sees an aggressive China within its geographic sphere of influence as heightening risk to its own independence. So they want to bolster their ties to the U.S., especially security ties.

  • Many Taiwanese in positions of leadership were fearful of a Joe Biden Presidency, assuming that Biden would take a softer stance on China. And Taiwan may be more vulnerable to China than in the past.

  • So we can expect to see more flights between Taipei and the U.S., across all of Taiwanese carriers with long haul passenger capabilities – China Airlines, EVA Air, and StarLux.

  • And greater ties to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security advances these interests even more. Taiwan wants security cooperation with the U.S., though China has traditionally opposed U.S.-Taiwan cooperation. This would amount to U.S. officials operating in what China views as their territory.

  • If Taipei gets U.S. preclearance then it’s harder for China to ‘take’ the Taipei international airport, since they’d be taking a U.S. immigration facility staffed by Homeland Security personnel and creating an international incident directly with the U.S. That aligns U.S. and Taiwanese interests and serves as a deterret to China.

I’m not so sure that a Biden Presidency is bad for Taiwan. The Trump campaign actually mistook China Airlines for a Chinese airline in a campaign ad. While Trump has taken a hard line with China overall, at least in terms of rhetoric, he’s also been reluctant to become entangled in foreign wars. He sought withdrawal from Afghanistan, and hasn’t started new ongoing military conflicts. Moreover Joe Biden may be more inclined towards defending implied commitments in the 1988 Taiwan Relations Act.

Moreover at least in the short term it may be too risky for Xi Jinping to invade Taiwan outright. A quick victory would be a domestic political win, a quagmire could endanger his own future. It may be something that he plans post-election, as part of the project to unify Greater China. Taiwan needs to act aggressively now, to be prepared to defend itself, and thereby to deter China from giving it the need to defend itself.

Why U.S. Senators Are Getting Involved

Nine members of Congress have written to the Biden administration seeking approval for a Taipei preclearance facility as a show of support for Taiwan as it’s increasingly under threat from China. This move coincides with the reintroduction of the bipartisan Taiwan Relations Reinforcement Act. (HT: One Mile at a Time)

The group of seven Republicans and two Democrats said in a letter dated Thursday that a preclearance facility at the airport “would improve the ease of travel between the United States and Taiwan and reinforce the importance of our relationship with Taiwan.”

The airport “already hosts numerous nonstop flights to the United States, and is a major transit point in Asia,” the lawmakers wrote to Troy Miller, the senior official performing the duties of the commissioner for US Customs and Border Protection.

“Taiwan is America’s ninth-largest trading partner and its government strongly supports Taoyuan airport’s bid for the preclearance facility program,” they added.

Preclearance facilities put US customs agents in a traveler’s starting country to make entry into the US go more smoothly.

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Gary Peters (D-MI), Mitt Romney (R-UT), John Cornyn (R-TX), and James Inhofe (R-OK), along with Representatives Jim Banks (R-IN), Ed Case (D-HI), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), do not primarily care if preclearance will make travel smoother for frequent flyers. They care about supporting Taiwan against China.

In The Short Term There Will Be More Flights And Award Seats

We are going to see more flights, irrespective of customer demand, because greater linkages with the U.S. serves Taiwan’s national security interest in the face of an aggressive China. Expect Taiwanese carriers to add flights back into markets ahead of much chance of filling those flights.

  • That means great opportunities for fare deals (which also promote cross-population between the U.S. and Taiwan) as well as stopover deals (greater familiarity with Taiwan by Americans may lead to greater sympathy when the country needs it).

  • And empty seats should mean greater award availability, too, which is helpful for using SkyTeam and Star Alliance miles over Taiwan to the rest of Asia.

Will Taipei Get Immigration Preclearance?

Taiwan has a strategic interest in closer security ties with the U.S. Seeking cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security advances that interest. So does adding flights between Taiwan and the U.S. ahead of real passenger demand, which will mean fare deals and award availability.

Whether or not Taipei gets a preclearance facility depends largely on U.S. judgments about its relationship with China. The move will antagonize China, but if the judgment is that it will only antagonize them a little bit then it’s a tool in diplomatic tit-for-tat since many tariff options have already been exhausted or are too costly to enforce. If the State Department believes, however, that this will push China to retaliate then they’re not likely to move forward with the application.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I have to be honest and say that while Trump & Trumpism are awful, and so the American people voted him out – this doesn’t mean the Biden admin won’t be problematic in some areas.
    In terms of foreign policy – I suspect that China will eat US’s lunch during this admin, and so will Russia, and so will Iran. I hope I’ll be surprised, but that’s how I see it going down.

  2. Preclearance is an idiotic and pointless — if not outright counterproductive — boondoggle, providing cool overseas “work” opportunities for government employees who might otherwise be working a border crossing in El Paso. We can no longer afford such luxuries to our already over-pampered government workers (none of whom have lost a single paycheck from the lockdowns). This program should end.

  3. Taipei International airport is the airport in Taipei city. Lucky should be referring to Taoyuan International airport that has the majority of the international flights out of Taiwan.

  4. @Mak They may not see it as “cool overseas ‘work'”. I commented about how “it’s nice that you get to work here”. The preclearance man in the Bahamas rolled his eyes and said “get to work here?”. He didn’t like working in the Bahamas. So don’t think CPB agents would be happy to work in China (Republic of China).

  5. Usually about 85% of preclearance funding comes from the host government/airport. If there’s a boondoggle there, it’s not generally a USA based one.
    Taoyuan is the correct airport, which serves most international flights outside of Taipei City, Songshan is the Taipei City airport and only serves limited international traffic. (e.g. Korea, Japan, China, Etc.)
    I hope that it does allow for more flights to the USA. Taiwan is a beautiful country, with nice people and great food. Its also a great jumping off point to the rest of Asia as well.

  6. Taiwan is such a beautiful country with humble and friendly people. A gentle place, and a beacon of freedom and liberal democracy in the shadow of a large dictatorial regional adversary. The more we can do Stateside to strengthen security ties with Taiwan, the better. If pre-clearance helps in the path of accomplishing that, all the better.

  7. Is Taiwan going to help pay for this facility? I recall reading someplace Abu Dhabi pays for 80-85% of the cost of its US preclearance facility.
    I actually thought it was better for Taiwan to have asked this during the Trump administration before we entered a recession. I highly doubt Biden’s administration would even prioritize this over all the other issues he has to work on starting next month.

  8. Interesting angle, and probably true. For sure for applying they cleared it with the Biden people.

    Just realize that Hong Kong was taken over by China during the Trump administration, who legitimized the move by including Hong Kong as part of mainland China for tariff purposes, while introducing completely irrelevant and toothless “sanctions” to keep the Fox News crowd distracted and donating.

  9. I wouldn’t like pre-clearance. That means I need to go to the airport earlier, I won’t be able to enjoy lounge, shopping or in my case the HK airport express where I can check-in easily right in the city. Also, I don’t know if I am lucky or what, but my past trips to the US (from HK) I never encounter any immigration long lines at the destination and I don’t even have a global entry. I remember when I’ve arrived to Los Angeles one time, it only took me about 20 minutes from stepping out of the plane til I pick up my luggage.

  10. I echo @Marco. Taiwan is a clean and safe place to visit with the freedoms that we enjoy in the US, Canada, and EU. We should do anything and everything we can to strengthen our ties. I am also not a fan of pre clearance, but I am a fan of supporting our friends in Taiwan.

  11. As a Taiwan university professor for two decades,I found your reasoning laughable. The comment about Chinese force invadingTPE airport where a US government facility is located therefore it is attacking US., etc. shows how incredibly uninformed you are. This whole piece is fantasy land. Please stop making international political analysis and focus on travel news.

  12. Taiwan will be in great danger if the cheating usurper becomes president. Not only is a he a weak, doddering, senile old man, but he’s nothing but a tool of the establishment. He’s too weak to do anything against China, plus his rotten family got rich off them. This corrupt old geezer wouldn’t do anything to protect Taiwan.

  13. @scientist – What professor would make a claim without a warrant? If you believe my piece is ‘uninformed’ then why not offer some specific arguments why, and offer ‘information’? Hopefully your scholarship is better than that..!

    Of course since you’re commenting from a Washington DC-area Comcast IP address, while Taiwan’s borders have been closed…

  14. I have enjoyed pre-clearance many times I specifically book a specific carrier to get pre-clearance. Finishing off immigration during layover rather than after landing saves time and stress.

  15. Global Entry does exist at some pre-clearance facilities. If you are connecting in the US, you usually save time on the connection and avoid another trip through a security checkpoint.

    As for Taiwan, it is a relatively minor connecting hub in the Asia-Pacific region and, pre-covid, United was the only airline operating a nonstop flight to the US mainland.

    China has decided it is no longer necessary to get around with the West – whether it be the US or Europe or Australia. The US needs to do what is in its best interests and those countries -including Taiwan – that we see as benefiting from our support.

  16. A preclearance post will not stop an invasion. The US personnel would likely be treated humanely and released. However, increased ties between the US and the province (ha ha ha ha) helps both countries. This is because of slightly increased security for them and less chance of war for us.

    It would really help if Taiwan adopts English as an official language as has been proposed. If lots of people in Taiwan speak English, over decades, there will likely be increased personal ties between Taiwan and the U.S. That helps avoid war between the mainland and Taiwan due to more likely involvement of the U.S.

  17. @Jeff that Axios piece suggests Chinese invasion could come within 6 years, I suggest a nonzero chance within two years (and remember there are only a few months it could happen due to rough seas), so not sure how I am underplaying the risk.

    And I have been talking about risk of invasion of Taiwan on the blog since last summer.

  18. Delta pulled out of Taiwan after its partnership with communist state-owned China Eastern. It would be nice to see US flag-carriers promoting US foreign policy interest by flying to Taiwan and US territories in the Pacific. It’s absurd there’s only one domestic flight to and from Guam and American Samoa with no domestic flights to and from Saipan.

  19. China will try to seize Taiwan by force. It’s naval build-up is aimed at accomplishing that among other things for China.

    Sadly, Taiwan’s best chance to stay independent from the Chinese Communist Party domination may be to join the nuclear weapons club — not that it would necessarily stop the PRC from going after the ROC anyway.

    Taiwan getting a couple dozen US CBP employees and their family members into Taiwan won’t provide much of a human shield for it in the event of a conflict going hot.

  20. Gary’s take is spot on. This is first and foremost, a political play. The goal is to increase US-Taiwan ties. Taiwan has no chance of winning against China if an invasion were to occur. The best shot Taiwan has is to defend their island for as long as possible, in the hopes of US intervention.

    This tilts the odds in favour of said intervention.

  21. @GUWonder
    Given the non proliferation treaty, how do you suggest Taiwan add nuclear weapons to their arsenal? They can’t even get added to the UN officially (not the least because China has veto powers as a per enact member of the security council).

    If Taiwan were to violate the treaty and attempt to add nuclear capabilities, and even if the US were to not sanction them for this behaviour, China would most definitely sanction them (and Taiwan depends heavily on China) if not go to war directly.

  22. Taiwan has operational nuclear reactors. Getting to have operational nuclear reactors has signified more than a start for clandestine nuclear weapons programs in more than one country.

    I’m not suggesting a Taiwan nuclear missile program would be successful at keeping the PRC from engaging in a genocide even of peoples on land that the PRC considers to be part of its domain, but was it the NRA that said an armed society is a polite society?

  23. @GUWonder

    It would be pretty much impossible to start a nuclear weapons program and be able to test the weapon without registering seismic activity, given their proximity to China.

    Personally, even though I’m skeptical of the entire MAD rationale, I’m firmly on the pro-Taiwan independence side (even if it just means maintaining the current status quo of One China policy). I just don’t see how Taiwan can feasible develop any sort of clandestine nuclear program without China realizing, and attacking them before the warheads are ready.

    And of course, all this is ignoring the fact that I think even the US would heavily sanction Taiwan for such actions, and cause both of the world’s current economic superpowers to destroy their economy before any type of war.

  24. Preclearance isn’t gonna stop Chicoms from being Chicoms. But anything that sticks a finger in Xi’s eye is ok by me. I don’t plan to fly thru Taipei anyway as i prefer a sushi stop in Japan.

  25. @Derek
    I’m not a fan of most PC, but I think it’s offensive to ask another country to adopt English as their national language. What you are unaware of is Taiwan schools, both private and public, have taught English for many years. Quite a few also adopt English names along with their Taiwanese names when they learn our language. I know these things first hand. My son is an administrator at a private school. He hires teachers from all around the world. He married a Taiwanese woman 10 yrs ago and they have twin 7 yr olds. His wife is trilingual as are both of the kids. Education is highly valued. My son fell in love with the country and it’s people. He’s been there since 2007. When I visited I was surprised and amazed. It’s really beautiful, and the people were so gentle and kind. Anyone who hasn’t actually been there, should refrain from making assumptions. All of Asia is afraid of China. Currently they are trying to control the Taiwanese Strait, although they are breaking international agreements. Please look it up as to why this is a very important waterway they’re claiming as their’s, not only to the rest of Asia , but also to the US and many other countries. The Phillipines are currently begging the UN to uphold the agreements after the aggression they’ve shown to them recently. Most of Asia is suffering this but the UN does nothing. They kowtow to China the same as WHO because they don’t want to deal with China. The UK is currently debating on what to do because of their ties to Hong Kong and the illegal seizure by yet another broken treaty. They’ve essentially put all of Hong Kong under house arrest. The whole thing is quickly becoming reminiscent of Hitler in WWIi.

  26. There are some errors in posts above —

    * For 2019 (pre-COVID) Taiwan’s TPE airport passenger patronage reached 48,689,372 vs NRT with 44,344,739; ICN with 71,169,516; HKG with 71.5 million — so how is TPE considered to be just a “minor connecting hub” in Asia? Is NRT also just a “minor” one?

    * United is *not* the only airline (pre-COVID) that flew non-stops between Taiwan and USA — EVA, China Air, and the upcoming Starlux also flew, or will fly, multiple daily non-stop flights to multiple destinations in USA. In fact, as a reference point, EVA used to fly 3 non-stop 777-300ER flights daily out of SFO alone!

    * Delta partnered up with China Eastern back in 2015 but ditched its flights to TPE in 2017 for logistical reasons stemming from its own cut backs of flights out of NRT, its connection point between TPE and USA. So it’s not clear that China Eastern forced Delta’s hand with that move, after 2 years of partnership. Both China Airlines and China Eastern are still concurrent members in the SkyTeam Alliance.

    * A distinction must be made between China “attacking” Taiwan, vs. China “invading” Taiwan — there is *no* credible way for China to “invade” Taiwan and “take it over” that way! Just how many PLA troops would they need to land onto the island to do that, given that Taiwan’s population is around 23.85 Million? How about 100K? Just how many ships do they need to move that many, and how many of their ships can actually survive their trek across the narrow strait, given that Taiwan actually has a credible military for self-defense? Don’t forget that Taiwan is one of only a handful of countries in the world that has self-developed a supersonic cruise missile that even China’s PLA/N respects! Based on reports that I’ve read, China’s own PLA leaders do *not* want to engage in any kinetic war against Taiwan … but their political leaders can be so annoying about such matters! 😛

    * With respect to Taiwan going “nuclear” despite having signed the NPT, so did Iran, but so what? This said, it’s *not* easy for Taiwan to get there, since it’s in the middle of dismantling its nuclear power plants and trying to go “all green” (which is creating energy shortfalls to support increasing industrial and economic growths).

    * The last name of the former Secretary of Transportation is spelled “Chao” and not “Chow”.

    + As a Global Entry member who *just renewed,* I’m *not* a great fan of pre-clearance, either — but if they must implement this program, they do need to create a separate line with full TSA/Pre privileges for Global Entry members at TPE, just as at origination airports in USA!

  27. @StrictlyFacts
    Iran is a poor country with a nominal GDP at less than 10k USD despite having one of the largest fossil fuel reserves in the world. Taiwan is a high gdp country that depends heavily on their tech industry (therefore trade with wealthy countries), and also depends on China for resources to sustain their population. The circumstances can’t be more different.

    Can they arm themselves with nuclear weapons? Sure, but it would be economical and political suicide for the ruling party.

  28. Taiwan is a problematic issue. White western countries are literally being invaded through illegal immigration and unwelcome legal immigration that is causing a genocide and demographics replacement. There is no point in fighting China if our own western countries look like Kenya/China/Saudi Arabia. Why should white people intervene over an island with people who are not its own and that is geographically close to China. I understand the policy of containment of communism with Korea and Vietnam. It was wrong to go over there because it helped no white westerners in any way. How does it hurt us if South Korea and Kpop didn’t exist and were all under Kim. Communist China should not exist. The U.S. should have sided with Germany and eradicated the soviets and prevented the communist Chinese from ever forming. The U.S. should have been more assertive over the last 40 years against China.

    The only thing the U.S. should do is to sell Taiwan as much weaponry as it wants and to hire mercenaries. I like Taiwan as a check on China but they don’t help white westerners either. We are better off without any of them.

  29. @David

    Yes … clearly the economic circumstances between Iran and Taiwan are worlds apart! My point was that, since Iran has been working on their (not-so-secret) nuclear weapons program despite having signed NPT in the past, Taiwan could, *hypothetically*, also engage in a similar manner; but they’re currently in the middle of dismantling their nuclear power plants, so such an approach will *not* be feasible, even if they wanted to thusly engage.

    Taiwan doesn’t rely on China that much for physical resources, but more for their (cheaper) labor to work at factories established there by Taiwan’s business entities, and also to tap markets there for exported Taiwan products.

  30. this is just another post show how much Gary hate about China and CCP

    1.That means great opportunities for fare deals? in the last few years where the US-asia Fare deal come from? majorly China government backup Airlines right? they compete with each other to put to USD 500 range for Economy fare, do you think Taiwan airlines can compete with this price?
    2.Taiwan only have 23 M people and Taiwan-US people won’t increase in foreseeable future, so the major increase will only come from China-US/SouthEast Asia, CHINA not allow own citizens to transit through taiwan,
    3. greater award availability too? Delta don’t even allow rewards travel through China airlines transit, phone call maybe works I haven’t check for long time.

  31. @FNT Delta Diamond.
    Delta’s service to TPE was via NRT and the inherited NW hub. They closed TPE along w/ multiple other smaller cities in Asia that did not support nonstop service from the mainland.
    China Airlines (Taiwan) is part of Skyteam but Taiwan is a small country (or province however you look at it) and has alot of air service to the US.

    The bulk of Guam and Saipan traffic is US military and leisure travel esp. from Japan and S. Korea. United has an advantage because of their GUM hub inherited from CO.

    keep in mind that DL and UA right now are limited to a very low number of flights to mainland China due to Chinese gov’t covid restrictions; US carrier flights stop in Seoul for a crew change so that US carriers do not have to overnight their crews in China. Chinese carriers supposedly double crew their flights to the US.

    The Chinese government says it lost the equivalent of billions of dollars per year on int’l flight subsidies for its carriers and is using covid as an excuse to strangle international capacity.

    Whether Taiwan sees an increase in traffic because of souring relations and reduced capacity w/ Taiwan remains to be seen. As with most things, economics rather than politics will prevail. The value of Taiwan as an air service country to the US might increase because of reduced capacity to mainland China.

  32. “If Taipei gets U.S. preclearance then it’s harder for China to ‘take’ the Taipei international airport, since they’d be taking a U.S. immigration facility staffed by Homeland Security personnel and creating an international incident directly with the U.S. That aligns U.S. and Taiwanese interests and serves as a deterret to China.”

    This is precisely right and it is in the national security interests of both Taiwan and the United States to make this happen as soon as possible.

  33. @John Argton

    Wow … so much emphasis on “White” with a desire to side with WW-II Germany of yore … trying to convey something racially biased with all of that?

    “I like Taiwan as a check on China but they don’t help white westerners either. We are better off without any of them.”

    So let me get this straight —

    * You do NOT like your Apple products, since those are pretty much totally manufactured by FoxConn of Taiwan, the world’s largest products contract manufacturing company.

    * You do NOT like your Electronics and Computing products, such as those from Apple, other brand Smartphones, AMD CPU chips, NVIDIA GPU/Gaming processors, Automotive Electronics, Consumer Electronics, Medical Electronics, and even critical Defense Electronics, since they all use IC chips manufactured through TSMC of Taiwan, THE world’s MOST ADVANCED IC contract manufacturing company — while Intel is now starting production with 10-nm IC chip geometry, TSMC has already been doing production with 5-nm, with 3-nm coming by late this year! In fact TSMC produces IC chips for over 10,000 products across over 480 client customers worldwide!

    So if you really think that you can be “… better off without any of them” (when referring to Taiwan), then I can only surmise that you’d rather live as a Neanderthal caveman!

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