The U.S. Senate approved an amendment to a
pending security bill (S. 4) that would permit additional countries
to qualify for participation in the Visa Waiver Program.
countries are seeking entry into the program, which allows
travelers to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa. In
exchange, participating countries extend the same privilege to
travelers from the U.S. Twenty-seven nations already
sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), would relax a key
criteria under which countries qualify for the program, the
so-called "visa refusal rate." Under the existing policy, countries
can be admitted to the program if U.S. consular offices are
rejecting fewer than 3% of the nonimmigrant visa applications filed
by citizens of that country. Feinstein's bill would increase that
limit to 10%.
also would require the Department of Homeland Security and the
State Department, in concert with Congress, to establish new
criteria to gauge overstays, or foreign visitors who do not return
home once their visa has expired.
security bill proposed expanding the Visa Waiver Program but didn't
set specific refusal or overstay rates for determining
bill, referred to as the Implementing Unfinished Recommendations of
the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, calls for the development of an
air exit system that would crosscheck whether arriving visitors
industry generally favors expanding the Visa Waiver Program, and
several industry lobby groups were quick to voice support for the
Bill Connors, COO
of the National Business Travel Association, said, "This measure
will potentially expand the healthy conduct of commerce between our
country and its key trading partners."
America Partnership, a group advocating inbound tourism, said the
amendment is a "reasonable approach to simultaneously strengthening
America's security and expanding access to the country for millions
of legitimate international travelers."
Still, the Visa
Waiver Program has been the subject of scrutiny due to concerns
that it could permit terrorists to enter the U.S.
acknowledged that during the first half of 2005, the Department of
Homeland Security confiscated nearly 300 fraudulent or altered
passports issued by Visa Waiver Program countries.
About 15 million
travelers visit the U.S. each year from visa waiver countries,
which in turn are visited by tens of millions of U.S. travelers who
are not required to get visas.
countries are Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei,
Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan,
Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand,
Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden,
Switzerland and the U.K.
Seeking entry are
Brazil, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary,
Israel, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania,
Slovakia, Taiwan and Turkey.
Uruguay, previously removed from the Visa Waiver Program for not
meeting certain criteria, are seeking re-entry.
To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].