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George Bush promises an end to visas for CEE nationals

US PRESIDENT George W. Bush, speaking in the Estonian capital of Tallinn on November 28, said he would work with Congress to change immigration rules to allow nationals of countries in Central and Eastern Europe to travel to the US without a visa.

“It’s important that countries like Estonia have the chance to enter this program [non-visa relations with the US], and that at the same time we also strengthen its security elements,” said Bush. “I will work with Congress and our international partners to amend the non-visa program.”

At the same time, the US leader did not give a time-frame for when such changes might be expected.

“The legislative process in the US is not simple, and canceling visas may take several years,” said Rastislav Káčer, Slovakia’s ambassador to Washington. “It’s certainly not a matter of a few days.”

Slovakia and other countries in this region, who are now members of both the EU and NATO but are still required to obtain visas to travel to the US, have recently stepped up criticism of the rules, saying that their nationals do not represent greater security risks than those of other EU countries who do not need visas.

At the moment, one of the basic criteria for being included in the non-visa program is that less than three percent of visa applicants be refused. Slovakia currently is at about a 20 percent refusal rate.

However, this barrier could be avoided if greater emphasis were placed on the security rating of the applicant’s country of origin.

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