U.S adds Saudi Arabia, 9 other countries to its Visa Waiver Program

The U.S Department of State has announced the addition of ten more countries to the U.S Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said that this development is part of series of transformations the program is going through.

The ten countries announced saw Argentina and Uruguay rejoining the program after they were removed in 2002 and 2003 respectively.

The ten countries are Argentina, Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Malaysia, Jamaica, Hong Kong, Seychelles, Cayman Islands and Georgia.

When it takes effect, nationals included in the program traveling to the United States, would be permitted a stay of a maximum period of 180 days for Tourism or Business purposes only. Stay over 180 days would therefore require a visa, Mike Pompeo said.

Mike added that the new countries joining the program which will be taking effect at a date yet to be announced, have demonstrated beyond doubt their ability to protect their borders, raise human development index, and maintain a good passport index.

Nationals included in the program are required to apply for a travel authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) online before departure to the United States, preferably at least 72 hours (3 days) in advance.

However, nationals who hold dual nationality will be required to obtain visas if their other passport is from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

Since 2016, the visa waiver does not apply in cases where a person had previously traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 or for those who are dual citizens of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria. Certain categories such as diplomats, military, journalists, humanitarian workers or legitimate businessmen may have their visa requirement waived by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a program of the United States Government which allows citizens of specific countries to travel to the United States for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. The program applies to the United States as well as the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, with limited application to other US territories.

Countries that are already enjoying the program are:

Andorra
Australia
Austria
Belgium
Brunei
Chile
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Ireland
Italy
Japan
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Monaco
Netherlands
New Zealand
Norway
Portugal
San Marino
Singapore
Slovakia
Slovenia
South Korea
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
Taiwan
United Kingdom

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Reps. Tom Rice (Republican-South Carolina) Mike Quigley (Democrat-Illinois), Raja Krishnamoorthi (Democrat-Illinois), and Guy Reschenthaler (Republican-Pennsylvania) have introduced a bill to change the name of the program to the Secure Travel Partnership. The Congressmen say the new name “more accurately reflects the mission and security of the program” while also encouraging tourism to the U.S.

“The Visa Waiver Program exists as a crucial program that protects our nation’s security, creates American jobs, and bolsters alliances with our friends,” said Krishnamoorthi. “The rebranding of the Visa Waiver Program to the Secure Travel Partnership encapsulates these major benefits to our economy and national security, while eliminating any confusion about the true mission of this program.”

The bipartisan bill earned endorsements from the U.S. Travel Association and the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

“Rebranding the Visa Waiver Program will have a lot of downstream benefits for both U.S. security and the U.S. economy,” USTA Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Barnes said. “For many, the program has had the connotation of relaxed security standards, when in fact the opposite is true: membership in the VWP subjects entrants to rigorous pre-travel vetting, mandates other security enhancements such as un-counterfeitable biometric passports, and enables invaluable intelligence-sharing with our partners in the program. Just as good, facilitating travel for citizens of our closest security allies also entails billions of dollars in proven economic impact.”

The program boosts and industry that in turn benefits the U.S. economy, said AHLA Executive Vice President of Government Affairs Brian Crawford.

“Travel and tourism is a critical driver of the American economy, generating $2.3 trillion in economic output and supporting one in nine American jobs,” Crawford said. “Working with the broader travel community, the hotel industry supports policy initiatives that promote tourism, including the Secure Travel Partnership Program which will increase international business and leisure travel while simultaneously enhancing national security.”

In 2017, the Visa Waiver Program allowed 23 million travelers to visit the United States, generated over $190 billion, and supported nearly one million jobs. Previously, USTA’s Travel Trends Index showed international inbound traffic to the U.S. grew 3.8 percent, beating October’s 2.4 percent growth, but the association still predicts growth for that category to shrink to 1 percent through May.

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