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Visa Waiver Program - How a Country Qualifies
How does a country qualify to participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?
In order to be designated to participate in the Visa Waiver Program, countries must meet certain legislatively established criteria, as set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act (U.S.C. 1187), the Border Security Act, and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act (EBSVERA).
Among these criteria are requirements that:
- Governments provide reciprocal visa-free travel for U.S. citizens (90 days for tourism or business purposes);
- Governments issue secure machine-readable passports that satisfy internationally accepted standards;
- Governments certify that they have a program to incorporate biometric identifiers into their passports in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization standards;
- Governments certify that they report the theft of blank passports on a timely basis to the U.S. Government, and do so in practice;
- The country must have a very low nonimmigrant refusal rate (as explained in Section 217 (c)(2)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act); and
- The incidence of nationals of the country traveling as nonimmigrant visitors who are denied admission, withdraw their application, and violate the terms of a VWP admission is less than two percent of the total number of nonimmigrant nationals traveling to the U.S. during the previous fiscal year.
In addition to these specific criteria for participation in the Visa Waiver Program, Section 217 of the INA also requires that the Department of Homeland Security in consultation with the Secretary of State evaluate the effect that a country’s designation as a VWP participant would have on the law enforcement and security interests of the United States, including interests related to enforcement of immigration laws and the existence and effectiveness of extradition agreements and procedures. In order for a country to be designated as a VWP participant, a determination must be made that such interests would not be compromised by the designation of the country.
Specific factors to be considered in such a review are not established in the legislation. However, in the past the following types of issues have been considered:
- Security of a country’s passport application, production and delivery processes;
- Security of passports and other documents used to demonstrate identity and citizenship, and incidence of fraud or misuse involving such documents;
- Nationality and citizenship laws, and application of such laws;
- Existence of security and law enforcement threats in the country (terrorist activities, organized crime, money laundering, human and drug trafficking, etc.), and efforts to address such threats;
- Immigration controls and alien smuggling activities in the country, and efforts to address such threats;
- Stability of the government politically and economically;
- Degree of cooperation with the U.S. and other international partners on law enforcement issues, including extradition.