By Marii Stoltsen
On October 17, President George W. Bush played host to the representatives of seven countries as he declared their inclusion into the United States Visa Waiver Program (VWP) starting November, 17. Under the law, the citizens of these countries – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea – will be able to travel to the United States for business or tourism without visa for up to 90 days, finally receiving the same privilege they have accorded to US citizens for years.
President Bush accounted for the delay by stating that after the events of September 11 the US “could only expand travel opportunities if [they] increased security measures at the same time.” The countries joining the VWP in November have agreed to implement the Electronic System for Travel Authorization [ESTA] for screening passengers that requires them to register online at least two days ahead of their visits to the United States. In addition to this, anyone wishing to travel to the States must own a tamper-proof biometric passport.
This announcement marked the first step of success in the Administration’s effort to modernise the VWP, as well as the realisation of the President’s belief that “the best foreign policy for America is one that lets visitors get to know this great country firsthand.” The representatives of Bulgaria, Cyrpus, Greece, Malta, Poland, and Romania also attended the press conference as the members of the six countries currently participating in the “visa waiver road map” process.
Currently there are 27 countries included in the VWP and these new additions set high hopes for other countries seeking to solidify their alliance to the United States. With one of the most isolationist nations opening up to all parts of the world and extending trust, a new chapter in international relations has indeed begun.