U.S. President George W. Bush announced on October 17 that the United States is rescinding visa requirements for citizens of six European countries and South Korea. Bush said that Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and South Korea will be added to the U.S. visa waiver program in about a month. Each of those countries allows U.S. citizens to visit without obtaining a visa, wrote the Associated Press.
Now, the Slovak Parliament is expected to approve a treaty that Slovakia must adopt for cancellation of the visa duty to the United States. Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák said he expects a smooth go-ahead for the treaty, according to news wire SITA.
The cancellation of visas adds Slovakia to the 27 countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows the citizens of those countries to visit the U.S. visa–free for tourism and other non–business purposes for up to 90 days at a time. Most VWP countries are from the European Union, but others include Japan and Brunei.
Slovaks travelling to the U.S. will have to follow the new procedure which should come into effect for all citizens from VWP countries as of January 12, 2009, according to the SITA newswire.
The procedure requires that each traveller have a biometric passport and obtain travel authorisation from the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) at least three days prior to arriving in the U.S.
Travellers apply for authorisation by submitting an application through the Department of Homeland Security’s website. The applicant will receive an e-mail notification soon after stating whether authorisation has been approved.
After arrival in the U.S., Slovaks' documents and fingerprints will be inspected by an immigration officer. Permission to enter the country does not mean permission to work there, the agencies emphasised.
Any Slovak who is turned down for travel authorisation can still apply for a visa at the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava.
The decision to move quickly toward lifting the visa requirement came after a report showed that the rejection rate for Slovak visa applicants had dropped below 10 percent. The countries have also successfully signed two important agreements.
The more recent agreement, which enhanced cooperation in preventing and combating crime, was signed on October 8. The signatories included U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip, and Kaliňák.
“I commend our Slovak partners for this important step toward an expanded and more secure Visa Waiver Program,” Chertoff said, according to a DHS press release dated October 8. “Sharing law enforcement information is fundamental to combating transnational crime and discouraging criminal and terrorist travel."