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No Expansion on Visa Waiver Program

June 29, 2009 By: Megan Stride Travel Agent

Tomorrow marks the expiration of the federal government's authority to further expand the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of approved countries to spend up to 90 days in the U.S. without a visa. Representatives of the U.S. Travel Association expressed their dismay, saying that the program encourages international travel to the U.S. and boosts the country's economy, and should therefore be protected and expanded.

"The U.S. Visa Waiver Program is an instrumental tool in welcoming hundreds of thousands of secure short-term visitors to America," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "America should be expanding its efforts to attract overseas visitors at a time when international inbound travel is down, not putting up barriers."

All countries participating in the program are developed and considered high-income economies; late last year, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia were admitted. Further expansion of the program will expire tomorrow, however, because the Department of Homeland Security has failed to establish a biometric exit tracking system in all U.S. international airports, a Congressional stipulation.

"While we recognize that DHS has recently conducted pilots of an exit system at selected airports in recent weeks, we are extremely disappointed that a permanent solution has not yet been found," Dow said. "We urge DHS to finalize a friendly and efficient biometric air exit program as quickly as possible or work with Congress to strengthen the existing biographic exit system as a legal alternative." 

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