Until now, Croatian citizens traveling to the United States of America have needed a visa to gain access to the country.
The good news for Croats is that visa requirements for the United States are expected to be canceled by the end of 2020. Instead, Croatian nationals will be able to benefit from the visa waiver program.
The news was announced by Gordan Grlic-Radman, the Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister, who discussed the issue with U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo earlier this month (February 2020).
Rather than requesting a visa, visitors will need to apply via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. The fully online ESTA application will replace the often lengthy visa procedure providing much quicker and easier access to the United States.
Croatian nationals traveling to the U.S. for tourism or business purposes, as well as those passing through the country in transit, will be able to take advantage of the visa-free scheme.
There are many perks to applying for the ESTA visa waiver instead of a tourist visa. The traditional visa application process requires candidates to complete forms, supply documentation and attend an interview at the U.S. embassy.
As the U.S. embassy in Croatia is located in Zagreb, those who live far away have had to make the long journey, often at great expense, to attend the interview. Also, depending on the location and time of year, it can take several days to get an interview appointment and receive a decision on the application.
One of the greatest benefits of being included in the visa waiver scheme is that applicants do not need to attend an interview and can complete the entire application from the comfort of their own home.
Foreign nationals who wish to work, study or gain permanent residency in the United States are not eligible for the Electronic System Travel Authorisation.
Like citizens of the current 39 visa-waiver countries, Croats visiting America for reasons other than tourism or business will need to obtain the relevant visa.
The approved ESTA will allow the holder to remain in the country for a maximum of 90 consecutive days for tourism or business purposes, or while in transit.
As the ESTA is multiple-entry, foreigners can leave and reenter the U.S. as many times as necessary within the 2 year validity period, or until the holder’s passport expires.
Once the visa requirements for Croatian nationals traveling to America are scrapped, citizens of the country will be eligible to apply for the ESTA visa waiver online.
In addition to having a valid passport, Croatian applicants will need to meet all the ESTA eligibility requirements to proceed with the application. The form is completed online and submitted for approval.
In most cases, Croats will receive their approved ESTA within minutes and approval rarely takes longer than 72 hours. The process is therefore significantly quicker than applying for a U.S. visa. On approval, the ESTA is sent via email.
By the end of the year, Croatia is expected to become one of 40 visa-exempt countries in the world. This will leave 3 members of the European Union unable to apply for the ESTA: Cyprus, Romania, and Bulgaria.
Nations who wish to enter the ESTA visa waiver program must meet 2 specific conditions laid out in the Immigration and Nationality Act of the United States.
The 2 key criteria are:
In addition, American citizens must be offered visa-free travel to the country.
Citizens of countries that do not meet the requirements are not able to benefit from the U.S. visa waiver program and must continue to apply for a visa.
Croatia has, up to now, been missing from the list of countries eligible for the visa waiver. Despite fulfilling the political and security criteria, a visa rejection rate higher than 3% has blocked them from participating in the ESTA scheme.
The principal reason why Croatian visa applications are rejected is economic. Refusal is most commonly due to a lack of financial resources. The U.S. authorities are concerned that foreigners without a full-time job or permanent housing back home will change from tourists into job seekers.
However, this situation is now changing and visa-free travel is considered to be beneficial to business people from both Croatia and the U.S.
Provided the rejection rate is below 3%, Croatia will meet all the criteria necessary to take part in the ESTA visa waiver program.
Although it is not yet certain that these changes will come into effect by the end of the year, the signs are hopeful. This positive development means that Croats are a step close to enjoying visa-free travel to the United States.