THIS YEAR has witnessed considerable progress in cooperation between the US Embassy in Bratislava and the Slovak government on moving towards a visa waiver for Slovak tourists travelling to the U.S. The U.S. government is now likely to decide by the end of October whether Slovakia has fulfilled all the criteria necessary to allow visas to be waived for its citizens. Of particular importance is the number of refused visa applications during the last U.S. fiscal year, which will be known after September 30, U.S. Embassy spokesman Keith Hughes wrote in a press release. According to Hughes, the final two agreements necessary for the cancellation of the visa obligation should be signed soon, the SITA newswire wrote.
The American ambassador to Slovakia, Vincent Obsitnik, is expected to sign the agreements with Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák in early October, which will allow Slovakia to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
However, Obsitnik told a Košice press conference on September 23 that, so far, information about whether the rejection rate for Slovak visa applicants has dropped below the 10 percent target is yet to be officially confirmed.
“I do not have any information so far,” said Obsitnik. “We are waiting until October [to see] whether the results that Slovakia has reached [for] a visa rejection rate below 10 percent by September 30 are confirmed.”
It will then be up to President George W. Bush when he announces the cancellation of visa obligations for Slovakia and other countries, Obsitnik said in Košice.
The ambassador has not confirmed whether the announcement to waive visas for Slovak tourists would be announced during a meeting Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič is scheduled to have with President Bush on October 10.
A spokesman for the Slovak Interior Ministry, Erik Tomáš, told SITA that the two outstanding agreements concern the exchange of information in order to screen for terrorists or terrorist suspects, and intensification of cooperation in order to tackle criminal activities. Both are now undergoing interdepartmental review. The cabinet should deal with them on October 1 and the ministry expects that they will be signed in early October.
According to Tomáš, a definite answer to the question on when the visa obligation for Slovak citizens might be cancelled is exclusively within the competency of the U.S.
"But we can say that we have been getting optimistic signals," he said.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry hopes that Slovakia will enter the U.S. Visa Waiver Program by the end of the mandate of the current U.S. administration, ministry spokesman Ján Škoda told the Spectator.
Škoda added that he believes that the number of visa rejections for the past fiscal year would drop below 10 percent.
“Slovakia has met all the conditions,” he said.
Rachel Wolfe, the U.S. Consul to Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator that the number of rejected visa applicants is declining.
She also mentioned that the Slovak economy is improving, so Slovak applicants don’t have so much reason to leave Slovakia or Europe and stay illegally in the U.S.
She said that if Slovakia were successful potential travellers to the U.S. would use the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
“It is for international visitors and is the electronic registration system for people who are in visa–waiver countries to use online,” she said.