Visa Waiver Program expanded

Published 20 October 2008

Six more countries admitted to the Visa Waiver Program: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea

President George Bush on Friday hosted representatives from seven nations that have met the criteria for admission into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and six nations on track to be admitted. In about a month, the citizens of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea will be able to travel to the United States for business or tourism for up to ninety days without a visa. So-called “roadmap” countries, which are on track to qualify for VWP admission, are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Poland, and Romania.

Leaders of the thirteen countries told the president that their citizens believed it unfair that they had to wait in line and pay for visas to travel to the United States when other allies are allowed to travel visa-free. The president agreed while pointing out that in the post-9/11 world, expanding visa-free travel would be possible only as travel security measures are strengthened.

The administration says that the announcement represents a milestone in the long effort by the administration to modernize the VWP. During a November 2006 visit to Estonia, the president announced that he would work with Congress to expand opportunities for visa-free travel as we strengthen the security of the VWP. As part of the “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007,” Congress acted to give the administration greater flexibility to admit new countries into the VWP provided that they agree to a number of new security enhancements, notably to share information about threats to our people. The law also requires foreign citizens who want to travel under VWP to register through a new online program that screens for potential security threats.

The VWP currently allows the citizens of twenty-seven countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business without obtaining a visa. Nationals participating in the VWP must travel only for business, pleasure, or transit; stay in the United States for ninety days or less; and, if arriving by sea or air, hold a valid ticket for return or onward travel and enter the United States aboard an air or sea carrier designated as a participant in the VWP.