Visa Waiver Program Sees Push for Expansion

The Visa Waiver Program allows foreign nationals from certain countries to visit the United States for business or leisure for 90 days or less without going through the hassle of obtaining a travel visa.

There are a number of criteria a country must meet to participate in the program. At least one of the program’s requirements is being reviewed by Congress.

Here are some of the criteria participating countries must meet to be a part of the program.
• Must have a reciprocal program with the United States
• Must issue secure, machine-readable passports
• Must be on track to include biometric identifiers in passports
• Must report theft of blank passports to the U.S. Department of State
• Must have a low nonimmigrant refusal rate.

Refusal rates are used as a measure of the likelihood a foreign national would overstay his or her trip to the United States.

Critics argue that the overstay rates themselves would be a better measure of the propensity of a person on a business trip or vacation to stay beyond his or her allotted 90 days.

Refusal rates can be skewed if the same person is refused several times, for example. By comparison, nationals from a country with a high overstay rate likely need a visa from the State Department before visiting the United States.

There are bills before the U.S. House and Senate that would replace refusal rates with overstay rates among other tweaks to the program.

There are 36 countries in the Visa Waiver Program. About 40 million people visit the United States every year for business or vacation. Among those, almost half enter the United States from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The State Department has been under some pressure during the down economy to loosen restrictions on business and leisure travel to the United States. Travel and tourism can be a big boost on a struggling economy.

But the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have a responsibility to keep people out of the country who pose a threat to law and order or national security. There also is political pressure to keep foreign nationals out of the country who intend to stay here illegally.

There also is a movement to expand the number of countries who participate in the Visa Waiver Program. Adding countries to the list would increase the number of visitors from those countries for both business and recreation. An expanded list might also be better for security.

The United States gets more information and more useful data about counterterrorism and criminal enforcement from member nations than it does from non-member nations.

A. Banerjee is a Houston immigration lawyer in Texas. Before selecting an immigration lawyer in Houston Texas, contact the Law Offices of Annie Banerjee by visiting their information filled website at

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