Visa Waivers May Be Offered To More Nations

Visa Waivers May Be Offered To More Nations
Associated Press
Wednesday, November 29, 2006; Page A09

The Bush administration will ask Congress to change and expand a program that allows citizens of some countries to enter the United States without visas. In exchange, the U.S. government would require visitors to provide more data about themselves before they board planes.

During stops yesterday in Latvia and Estonia, President Bush told officials of those countries that he would try to persuade Congress to add countries to the visa waiver program.

In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that in addition to being expanded, the program should be changed to increase security. For example, participating nations would be asked to quickly provide information on lost or stolen passports.

Officials did not say which other countries the administration might try adding to the program. Countries from Central and Eastern Europe have expressed interest in entering the program, which lets travelers enter the United States with only a passport.

The visa waiver program was created in 1988 and was originally focused on preventing illegal immigration into the country. But since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the focus has shifted to security, and the program has been altered several times in hopes of strengthening the government's ability to detect and deter terrorists.

The program applies to citizens of 27 countries traveling to the United States for 90 days or less for tourism or business, said Homeland Security spokesman Jarrod Agen. About 15 million people visit the country under the program each year.