29 October 2010

EU steps up efforts to get all member states included in US Visa Waiver Program

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The European Union’s lobbying to get all 27 member states included in the US Visa Waiver Programme, and therefore able to travel to the US on an ESTA, has hit a major snag.


The EU's efforts to get all member states included in the ESTA programme may not be successful this year.

Currently, 23 countries in the EU are able to travel to the US on an ESTA . However, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania in the EU are not included in the US Visa Waiver Programme and must apply for a more costly US Tourist Visa to visit the US.

US Congress will have to pass new legislation before Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania will have any chance of joining the visa waiver programme, and this is not likely to happen until 2011 at the earliest. Even if Congress changes the rules to make it easier for these countries to enter, they must be invited to join the programme by the US administration and there is little indication that the Obama administration will do this.

US law currently states that the VWP cannot be extended to countries whose US Visa refusal rate exceeds 3 per cent, and recently released figures from the US State Department for 2010 have shown that only Cyprus would be eligible. Cyprus’s rate rose from 1.4% to 1.7% in 2010, although this is only one consideration as the US has concerns about the strength of its border control abilities.
Poland managed to reduce its rate from 13.5% in 2009 to 9.8% compared to 2009 and may be considered as seven Central and Eastern European countries were added to the programme in 2008 when their rate dropped below 10 per cent.
Bulgaria’s refusal rate was 17.2 per cent in 2010, down slightly from 17.8 per cent, while Romania’s was 24.8 per cent, down from 26.3 per cent


The American Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people with their ESTA application to the US Embassy.

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