The US is considering adding more countries to the ESTA Visa Waiver Program (VWP) including the 5 EU countries which are not currently included. Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Cyprus may all be added as well as Brazil, Argentina, and Israel.
Nationalities which are eligible for ESTA can enter the US for periods of up to 90 days without a visa. Applicants need to register online for the visa waiver by completing the ESTA application which only takes a few minutes.
The US offers the benefit of visa-free travel to countries which share intelligence about security and terrorism. The US can access the information and pre-screen passengers which replaces the conventional security check during the visa application process.
The exclusion of Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Cyprus from the program has been the cause of an ongoing transatlantic dispute since 2014. The 5 countries want their citizens to receive the same advantages as the other EC countries. They have repeatedly called Brussels to demand this from the US.
The European Commission said: “The United States and the European Union agreed on the importance of advancing towards reciprocal visa-free travel under their respective legal frameworks and, following the most recent tripartite meeting on visa reciprocity, welcomed the progress of the five concerned member states.”
The US and the EU will meet in Bucharest for further talks on the issue. Certain parts of the US Government still have concerns regarding the inclusion of the 5 countries.
Tourism officials want more countries to be added to the ESTA Visa Waiver Program to give US tourism a boost. However, other sections of the government are more reluctant to include them because of security concerns.
To provide reassurance that the Visa Waiver Program does screen passengers thoroughly, the program could be rebranded. The proposal is to give it a tougher-sounding name: ‘The Security Travel Partnership’.
Jonathan Grella, vice president of the US Travel Association, said: “A lot of folks see the word ‘waiver’ and think of an overzealous third-base coach waving folks into the country.”
“We hope rebranding can give us a fresh start to allow the program to be reconsidered on its merits,” he said.
US tourism has been on the decline since 2010 and the industry has identified a number of reasons why. A strong US dollar, tension with China, the economic crisis in Europe, and anti-immigration rhetoric from President Trump, have all been blamed. Adding more countries to the ESTA Visa Waiver Program could help to improve the figures.