The United States of America is considering adding 4 countries to its Visa Waiver Program (VWP), according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
If the decision is taken, nationals of these states will be able to visit the USA visa-free. To enter the country without a visa, they will simply have to register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) by completing a quick online form.
The candidates for inclusion in the VWP include 3 member states of the European Union (EU) as well as Israel.
Most of the EU is already included in America’s VWP. Citizens of all countries in the Schengen Area, as well as Ireland and Croatia, already enjoy visa-free travel thanks to the ESTA.
The only EU countries not yet included are Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania. All 3 are under consideration.
Israel is also being considered after ongoing negotiations with the US government.
Enabling citizens of these countries to enter visa-free with an ESTA would make traveling to the US much easier and bring a boost to the US tourist industry.
“We have four candidates in the pipeline: Israel, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania,” Mayorkas announced on Tuesday at a travel industry event. He went on to outline the “significant economic and security benefits”, and reiterated the US’s commitment to the idea, saying “We’re very, very focused on the program.”
All European Union Countries to Be Included in the Visa Waiver Program
The EU is made up of 27 European countries. Of these, 22 member states are also part of the Schengen Area (only Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Republic of Ireland, and Romania are not).
All Schengen countries have been in the USA’s Visa Waiver Program for some time.
The Republic of Ireland is also a longstanding member.
Croatia was added to the US Visa Waiver Program in September 2021, making it the most recent member. Its inclusion brought the total number of VWP countries to 40.
This has left Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania as the only EU member states whose citizens must apply for a US visa to enter the country.
Since American nationals can visit any EU country without a visa, the European Commission (EC) has been calling for the inclusion of the remaining 3 EU members in the US VWP.
Finally, the US government is considering adding Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania to the list of visa waiver countries.
US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas held talks with the EC’s Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson in February 2021. Both “expressed their continued interest in maintaining the US-EU Passenger Name Record Agreement and working with Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania to meet the qualifications for the Visa Waiver Program.”
The addition of Croatia to the VWP added a $100 million boost to the US economy, according to Travel Association Chief Executive Roger Dow.
“Each time you add one of these countries, the travel just booms,” he said.
Israel to Be Added to the VWP
Israel is another country that has been lobbying for inclusion in the United States Visa Waiver Program.
The issue was brought up in meetings between Mayorkas and Israel’s US ambassador in August, as well as a meeting between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Biden stated that his administration would “strengthen bilateral cooperation with Israel in ways that would benefit both US citizens and Israeli citizens, including by working together towards Israel’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program.”
What Does Membership in the US VWP Mean?
The US Visa Waiver Program currently consists of 40 countries.
Travelers with passports issued by these countries can visit the United States of America visa-free for up to 90 days. The trips must be for tourism or business. They can also transit through the USA without a visa.
To enjoy these benefits, visitors must register their details online to obtain the ESTA visa waiver. This takes a matter of minutes and once registered, the individual can enjoy visa-free travel to the US for the next 2 years.
To join the VWP, countries must meet certain requirements. These include meeting certain standards in the following areas:
- Law enforcement
- Immigration enforcement
- Document security
- Border management
According to the Department of Homeland Security:
“These requirements include having a rate of nonimmigrant visa refusals below 3%, issuing secure travel documents, and working closely with US law enforcement and counterterrorism authorities.”