20 October 2008

US adds seven countries to the Visa Waiver Program

Last week, President George W Bush announced seven countries have been added to the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP). In a month's time, citizens from each of these countries will be granted the right of visa-free travel to America for purposes of tourism or business.

The VWP allows citizens from 27 countries to travel in the US for purposes of business or tourism for up to 90 days without a visa for America, including the UK, Australia and New Zealand.  Last week, President Bush announced seven countries have now been added to the list including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea.

Nationals from these 34 countries will have to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) in order to pass border security.  The ESTA is a free online authorisation for travel to the US, and maintains a high level of security for visa-free travellers to America.  Travellers who need an ESTA will need to apply online at least 72 hours prior to travel to America, and once completed, a person's ESTA will last for two years.

President Bush said the conditions of visa-free travel to the US mean that participating countries promise they will share information regarding security and terrorism, and their citizens will need tamper-proof biometric passports in order to travel to America.   

A number of other countries are participating in the "visa waiver road map", which is paving the way for more countries to become part of the VWP, including Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Poland, and Romania. 

The President thanked participating countries for opening up its foreign policy to America.

"Throughout our history, some of the strongest advocates of freedom have been those who came to America and saw the blessings of liberty with their own eyes. Extending this opportunity to some of our closest allies deepens our friendship and makes all our countries safer," he added.

According to EUBusiness.com, the European Commission has welcomed the move from President Bush, saying it will pave the way for a strengthened relationship between America and the European Union.

"It is a significant further step on the path to full visa-free reciprocity between the EU and the USA.  The close ties between the EU and the USA will be further strengthened by this move toward secure, visa-free travel across the Atlantic," European Commission Vice President Jacques Barrot said.

The American Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in American visa and immigration services.

Article by Jessica Bird, American Visa Bureau.

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