The US is planning on to change the name of its ESTA Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and grant nine more countries visa-free access. The countries which might be added to the program include the five EU member states whose citizens are not visa-exempt (Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Cyprus), as well as Brazil, Argentina, and Israel.
Citizens of countries which are part of the VWP can enter the US for periods of up to 90 days without a visa. Eligible travelers can complete the simple online ESTA application in just a few minutes and do not need to visit an embassy or consulate The US offers this benefit to countries who share intelligence about suspected terrorists and other security-related information. This allows the US to easily screen passengers from these countries, eliminating the need for traditional visas.
An ongoing transatlantic dispute began in 2014 about the EU countries which are currently not part of the ESTA VWP. The five countries have consistently called for an end to discrimination against their citizens. They want the same treatment as other member states and the EU is putting pressure on the US to achieve this.
The European Commission said in a statement: “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 towards meeting the statutory requirements of the visa waiver program.”
The US and the EU will meet in Bucharest for further talks on the issue.
Rebranding the Visa Waiver Program
The US is also planning to give the VWP a rebrand and change its name to the 'Security Travel Partnership'.
Tourism officials are keen to include more countries in the VWP to give tourism a boost. However, they are expecting some resistance from other sections of the government who may try and block the new countries' inclusion over security concerns. They hope the new tougher-sounding name will ease these worries.
Jonathan Grella, executive vice president at 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,” Grella said.
The number of foreign visitors to the US has been on the decline since 2010. The tourism industry has blamed a strong US dollar, the economic crisis in Europe, trade tensions with China, and anti-immigrant rhetoric from President Trump for the disappointing numbers.
The tourism industry hopes that including more countries in the VWP will help to turn the figures around.