SPEAKING during a visit to Bratislava on October 28, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff confirmed that Slovaks will be able to travel to the U.S. without a visa as of November 17. The date marks the 19th anniversary of the fall of communism.
On that same day, the U.S. is also dropping the visa requirement for citizens from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and South Korea.
These countries have been added to the Visa Waiver Program, which requires only a biometric passport and a number from the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
An ESTA number can be obtained at https://esta.cbp.dhs. gov. So far, the form is available in Czech, but not in Slovak.
Applying for a biometric passport takes a month and costs Sk1,000 (€33.19), according to the Interior Ministry.
At the moment, an ESTA form can be downloaded free of charge. The form contains common questions about the applicant’s personal data, health and criminal record.
At a press conference with Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, Chertoff quoted U.S. President George W. Bush, who pledged two weeks ago to rescind the visa requirement.
“I am glad to be here personally to carry this message to the people of the Slovak Republic, to thank them for working with us to make this possible and to extend an invitation to the people of the Slovak Republic to come to visit visa free, starting from November 17,” Chertoff told Slovak journalists.
Chertoff noted the significance of October 28 and November 17 in Slovak and Czech history. The first independent Czechoslovakia was founded on October 28, 1918. November 17, 1989 is celebrated as marking the start of The Velvet Revolution, which ushered in the end of communism.
Chertoff called Slovakia’s membership in the Visa Waiver Program a “symbol of the shared respect for freedom that underpins our two countries’ friendship,” media reported.
Interior Minister Kaliňák also praised its significance.
“Slovakia got the good news that it has been waiting for a long time, and it worked for it patiently,” he told journalists.
Kaliňák said he agrees with the opinion that the removal of the visa requirement is a signal that “the last remnants of the Iron Curtain has fallen.”
Among other things, Chertoff also praised the cooperation between U.S. and Slovak authorities. He called it a “tremendous privilege” to be the one to announce the news first.
When asked by The Slovak Spectator what the possible results of this decision would be, Chertoff said it would improve contact among family members, as many Americans originated from Slovakia.
“This step will also increase security in both Slovakia and the U.S. because we exchange information about terrorists and other criminals,” Chertoff told The Slovak Spectator.
Such an information exchange will aid both European countries and the U.S. in uncovering terrorists, he said.
“There is no advantage in allowing criminals to travel back and forth in European countries unknown by the authorities,” Chertoff said.
Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Diana Štrofová admitted to The Slovak Spectator that she had an emotional response to Chertoff’s announcement.
She commented that it will improve U.S.-Slovak relations at every level, be it the economic, artistic, or academic.
Especially where economic relations are concerned, the visa requirement represented a big hurdle, she added.
“Particularly high-powered businessmen considered it undignified to have to queue in front of the U.S. Embassy and ask for a visa,” Štrofová said. “So the visa waiver has opened a wide spectrum of opportunities to travel.”
The decision to lift the visa requirement does not affect the need to obtain a visa for work or study purposes.
3. Nov 2008 at 0:00 | Ľuba Lesná