The United States is considering adding three European Union Member States – Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania – to its Visa Waiver Programme (VWP), which means the nationals of these countries may soon be able to travel to the US for tourism and business purposes visa-free.
Currently, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania are the last EU countries, the nationals of which need a visa to travel to the US for tourism and business, after the US added Croatia to its Visa Waiver Programme.
The move was announced by US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last Tuesday, on October 26, who revealed that aside from these three EU countries, Israel is also a candidate country for the VWP.
“We have four candidates in the pipeline: Israel, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania,” Mayorkas announced during a travel industry event last Tuesday, Reuters reports.
The US VWP currently permits the citizens of 40 world countries, including here the 26 Schengen Area countries, Croatia and the UK, to travel to the US for tourism and business purposes without the need of applying for a short-term visa first.
The citizens of these countries only need to apply online for a travel authorization, which is known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The application for an ESTA is simple and quick, and travellers need to pay only an amount of $4.00, and once the application is approved, another $10.00 should be paid.
Generally, one ESTA authorization is valid for multiple entries into the US for a period of two years. However, each stay must not surpass the number of days permitted, which is 90 per entry. Those wishing to stay more than 90 days should apply for a visa.
In order for Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania to become part of the VWP, all three must meet some qualifying criteria set out by the US authorities, SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.
Among the most important criteria is having a non-immigrant visa refusal rate of less than three per cent for the previous year or a lower average percentage over the previous two fiscal years. Poland had struggled to become part of the VWP for years solely due to this criterion.
In addition, to become part of the VWP, a country must offer reciprocal privileges to US citizens, which means they should also permit US citizens to enter their territory visa-free, which criterion Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania already meet.
The European Commission has for years been calling on the US authorities to include in the VWP the remaining EU countries. In 2018, some members of the EU Parliament had even asked the Commission to reinstate visa requirements for US citizens in a reciprocity measure. However, the Commission had later decided against this proposal.