Pledge to grant Poland visa waiver status by end 2012
Brian Beary in Washington | Thursday 14 June 2012
Senior US administration officials have pledged to push hard to add Poland to the US Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) by the end of 2012. However, there is no imminent prospect of the other three EU countries still excluded from the programme - Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania - being added any time soon. Speaking at a press briefing, on 13 June, to flag up a new tourism initiative, US Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides said both the White House and the State Department were working to get Congress to pass the necessary bill, the JOLT Act, and that “there is very little opposition to this” from either Democrats or Republicans on Capitol Hill. Such bipartisan support for anything was “very rare,” Nides noted. But when asked about Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania, he said that there was “at this time no plan” to add them, either because of their high visa refusal rates or because they not yet having concluded the necessary data-sharing agreements. The JOLT Act should make it easier to add countries to the VWP by allowing them to be included once their visa refusal rate is below 10%, provided their visa overstay rate is lower than 3%.
Meanwhile, the US seems intent on keeping the US$14 fee for obtaining an Electronic System of Travel Authorisation (ESTA) that it has imposed on all visa waiver travellers since September 2012. US$10 of the fee is used to promote tourism, while US$4 is used to run the ESTA programme. “There is no plan that I know of to change the ESTA fee, but certainly there is a need to fund those programmes,” David Donahue, deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, told
Europolitics. The EU objects both to the US$14 ESTA fee and the failure to include all EU27 countries on the VWP.