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Slovakia closer to visa-free regime with USA

SLOVAKS have come even closer to a time when they will not need visas to travel to the United States.

Representatives of the US Department for Homeland Security told Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials that meeting the Schengen zone criteria and introducing biometric data passports as planned will help Slovakia fulfil the criteria for visa-free travel to the United States.

US Ambassador to Slovakia Rodolphe Vallee and Slovak foreign ministry state secretary Diana Štrofová told the press about these developments after talks on September 11, the SITA newswire wrote.

The American officials came to Slovakia one month after US President George W. Bush ratified a security bill that includes provisions for visa-free travel to the United States for EU newcomers, including Slovakia. The law concentrates on security criteria and no longer puts the primary focus on the number of rejected visa applications.

"In the ongoing talks, the attention is moving away from illegal migration for work to questions of security relating to people entering the US," Vallee told the TASR newswire.

Slovakia will have to fulfil seven security criteria that will also be compulsory for EU countries that already enjoy visa-free travel to the United States.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has proposed that Greece would be the first country to achieve a visa-free regime with the United States, Vallee said. He explained that Greece has been working on security criteria for a longer time and the number of rejected visa applications is below three percent.

Four years ago, the number of rejected visa applications in Slovakia was more than 30 percent. As of September 7, it was 12 percent. But the visa-free law sets the limit at 10 percent. This provision was pushed for by US senators, against the will of Bush, SITA wrote.

Štrofová could not specify when Slovak tourists will finally enjoy visa-free travel to the US. It will also depend on how promptly the Americans can fulfil the conditions that the new security law sets for them. The United States will first have to introduce technical measures to be able to control the number of people who leave the US with 97-percent accuracy. Vallee estimates that it might take from nine months to one year.

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