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Hundreds Take Advantage Of No-Visa Travel Between Japan, US

December 16, 1988

TOKYO (AP) _ Hundreds of Japanese travelers took advantage of a new no-visa rule on flights to the United States, and an airline spokesman said today that the first day went with hardly a hitch.

Starting Thursday, Japan and the United States began a 21-month pilot program that permits tourists and business visitors to enter without visas as long as they have a return or onward ticket and don’t plan to stay for more than 90 days.

The new system, warmly welcomed by the travel industry, is expected to boost travel to the United States by free-spending Japanese, as well as remove the visa routine for many Japanese.

The only hitch reported was a Japanese couple on a Japan Air Lines flight from Osaka to Honolulu who didn’t have return tickets, said JAL spokesman Geoffrey Tudor.

″Their return tickets had been bought for them in Hawaii and were waiting in their hotel, but the immigration authorities wouldn’t let them enter until they bought new return tickets,″ Tudor said.

″Apart from that, we’ve heard of no other untoward incidents,″ he said.

Tudor said the only figures he had heard was that 35 of 271 people aboard one JAL flight to San Francisco had taken advantage of the visa-waiver system.

At United Airlines, spokesman Bob Leu said about one-third of all Japanese passengers Thursday to the United States had gone without visas. That meant hundreds had tried the no-visa system, but Leu would not give exact numbers for reasons of commercial secrecy.

″It’s a pretty high number, I think, for the first day,″ Leu said. ″It went as smoothly as can be expected on the first day.″

The United spokesman said it also had gone ″quite easy″ for U.S. citizens arriving in Japan without visas.

Japanese immigration authorities said it would take several months before they had statistical information on the number of Americans who came without visas, but there were no reports of problems on the first day.

Tudor said he was worried that there could be longer delays at U.S. entry points as immigration officials spend more time questioning and processing Japanese who don’t have visas in their passports.

″Having flown 10 hours across the Pacific to visit the United States or sunny Hawaii, how galling it is to spend three hours in an immigration queue,″ Tudor said. ″That’s not much of a welcome for some people.″

The United States is notorious for being more difficult for foreign visitors to enter than most advanced countries, as immigration officials try to make sure that a tourist doesn’t intend to become an illegal immigrant. Also, Americans don’t need visas to visit most European countries, but Europeans have to get visas at U.S. embassies, spending time or money in the process.

In 1986 the U.S. Congress passed a law permitting negotiations with other countries to waive visas in some cases. Britain and the United States started a reciprocal visa-waiver program in July, and Japan is the second country.

Last year 2.2 million Japanese visited the United States - more than any other country - and spent an average 1,000 dollars each in addition to the air ticket. This year the number of Japanese visitors is projected to rise to 2.6 million.

About 430,000 Americans visited Japan in 1987.

The visa-waiver system applies only to tourists and businessmen who intend short stays. Visas are still required for such visitors for stays of 90 days or more, and for students, exchange visitors, journalists, researchers and those who intend to marry and move to the United States.

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