President Bush just announced that the Department of Homeland Security has notified Congress that the administration intends to admit seven new countries into the Visa Waiver Program. The new countries are Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and South Korea. The exact date of the visa waiver program eligibility for these countries is expected to be announced shortly.
About the Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a program of the United States of America which allows citizens of specific countries to travel to the US for tourism or business for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa.
To be eligible for a visa waiver under the VWP, the traveller seeking admission to the U.S. must be a citizen of a country that has been designated by the Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary of State, as a “program country”. Permanent residents of designated countries do not qualify unless they hold a citizenship of another designated country. The criteria for designation as program countries are specified in Section 217 (c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Title 8 U.S.C. §1187). The criteria stress passport security and a very low nonimmigrant visa refusal rate: not more than 3% as specified in Section 217 (c)(2)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as ongoing compliance with the immigration law of the United States.
The full list of VWP countries, taking into effect the new seven countries is as follows:
- Europe: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France (including French overseas territories), Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom;
- Asia: Brunei, Japan, Singapore and South Korea; and
- Oceania: Australia and New Zealand.
As a reminder, citizens of all VWP countries traveling must register using the new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Registration is optional until January 12, 2009, when it becomes mandatory and a VWP traveler may be denied entry in the U.S. under the VWP if he/she has not registered using ESTA.