12 September 2006

Calls for America's Visa Waiver Program to be extended for all EU states

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The United States is coming under pressure to extend its Visa Waiver Program to all members of the European Union.

Under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), citizens of 27 Senate nominated countries are allowed to travel to America as tourists or on business for a maximum of 90 days without obtaining a visa.

Currently, out of 25 member states of the European Union, only 15 are part of the Visa Waiver Program, leaving citizens of Malta, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia and Lithuania forced to apply for visas to enter the United States.

Malta are one of the excluded countries at the forefront of calling for change, and Maltese Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Simon Busuttil has called on the European Commission to find means to remove the visa requirement for all EU states.

“In the EU there are no first-class and second-class citizens. We all have the same rights. So the US should treat us all the same,” said Dr. Busittil.

The European Commission is now reported to be considering the imposition of a visa requirement for US diplomats traveling to Europe, by way of sanction to increase the pressure on America to extend the program.

The United States though are unlikely to make any concessions to Europe at the moment, particularly in the light of recent reports highlighting flaws in the Visa Waiver Program.

In its report, the Government Accountability Office found that the Department of Homeland Security used outdated information when it decided to continue letting visitors from the 27 countries on the VWP enter the U.S. without visas.

It found that the reviews did not always contain timely information on the latest risks posed by the participating countries, with Congress receiving reports on the security risk more than a year after the assessments were undertaken.

The visa Waiver Program came under scrutiny after the September 11 terrorist attacks on America, even though none of the hijackers entered the country under the program.


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