The leaders of 2 countries — Bulgaria and the United States of America — have met in Washington. What was discussed in this meeting could have a huge impact on travel from Bulgaria to the States.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov met with US President Donald Trump on November 25th in his first visit to the White House since meeting Barack Obama in 2012.
The leaders of these 2 countries were to discuss several important issues. At the forefront of the conversation were energy concerns in Bulgaria, but defense spending and the possibility of Bulgaria joining the ESTA Visa Waiver Program were also discussed.
If the US adds Bulgaria to the ESTA Program, it will make traveling to the States much more straightforward for Bulgarian citizens.
At the moment, all Bulgarian citizens traveling to the United States of America must obtain a valid visa beforehand. There are 2 types of visa:
The ESTA visa waiver is not currently available for Bulgarian citizens, although this may change in light of recent negotiations. In the meantime, Bulgarians traveling to the US must fill out the DS-160 form and book an appointment for an interview at a US Embassy or consulate.
Visas were not the only thing on the agenda when Boyko Borisov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria, visited the White House. The two leaders talked extensively on the energy situation in Bulgaria, agreeing to cooperate on future projects, as well as NATO and defense spending.
The question of energy dominated the discussion. Bulgaria has been dependent on Russia for natural gas. This arrangement dates back to the Cold War, when Bulgaria was one of Soviet Russia’s closest allies in the Eastern Bloc.
Since transitioning to democracy, Bulgaria has joined NATO and the European Union (EU) and has become a US ally. It now aims to diversify its energy sector so that it no longer has to rely on buying from Russia.
Having agreed to buy gas from the US for the first time in May 2019, the US has pledged to work with the Bulgarian government to help increase its supply of natural gas and diversify Bulgarian energy. This includes sending American technical experts to cooperate on nuclear energy projects.
It is hoped that by working more closely with the US and strengthening diplomatic ties, Bulgaria will be allowed to join the list of ESTA countries.
Borisov and Trump also discussed Bulgaria’s efforts with defense spending, after the country’s recent purchase of 8 US F-16 fighter jets. The US President praised Bulgaria’s efforts to meet NATO defense spending targets.
Citizens of the majority of NATO countries are able to visit the US with the ESTA, with Bulgaria hoping to count itself among them soon.
The subject of abolishing US visa requirements for Bulgarian visitors was a matter that Borisov was keen to discuss.
During the press conference before the meeting began, he told Trump via a translator that the Bulgarian people expected to have the visa issue resolved. He compared the ideal outcome to that of Canada’s decision to allow Bulgarian visitors to apply for electronic travel authorization (eTA) instead of a visa.
The President responded positively, saying that they would work towards a solution.
Trump later commented that the friendship between Bulgaria and the USA was strong and promised that they were going to discuss the visa program as per the request of the Bulgarian Prime Minister.
The meeting between Borisov and Trump could be the beginning of the process of adding Bulgaria to the US ESTA Visa Waiver Program.
Similar talks were held between the US President and the Polish government earlier this year. Since then, Poland has become the first country since 2014 to be added to the ESTA list.
The US is also said to have been considering adding a number of other countries to ESTA, including Bulgaria.
However, while things seem to be moving in a positive direction on the face of things, an agreement between Bulgaria and the United States is by no means certain. Until such an agreement is announced, Bulgarian citizens will have to apply for a visa to enter the US.
Should recent talks come to nothing, Bulgaria’s government is unlikely to give up. In September, Deputy Prime Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva stated:
“The topic of the abolition of US visas for Bulgarian citizens is always the focus of attention — no matter what institutional level the talks are conducted.”