DHS Expands Visa Waiver Program

ASTA is reminding travel agents that the federal Visa Waiver Program (VWP) offers significant economic benefits to the U.S. In 2006, 60 percent of travel-related business transactions involved VWP travelers. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Florida alone welcomed 2.5 million VWP travelers in 2006. These visitors stayed for an average of 11 days— twice as long as domestic tourists, ASTA reports.

On October 17, the DHS announced an expansion of the VWP. Under this program, eligible citizens or nationals of certain countries may travel to the U.S. for tourism or business and remain in the country for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.

Currently, citizens or nationals of the following countries may travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program: Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

In its October 17 announcement, the DHS stated that it is close to finalizing decisions to admit the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and South Korea to the Visa Waiver Program. These countries are expected to be eligible for the program beginning November 17.

Citizens and nationals of these additional countries may travel to the U.S. under the VWP only if they have obtained an approved travel authorization, and if they are in possession of an e-passport. Current participating nations will be required to adhere to these new requirements no later than October 2009.

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