VWP : US to include Romania and Croatia

The US Visa Waiver Program helps to enable low risk citizens from low risk countries to visit the US as tourists, or for business purposes, without the need to apply for a full US visa. US officials regularly review the countries that are members of the VWP to see whether they should still be included, and they also evaluate other countries to assess whether they should be included in the VWP.

As part of this reviewing process, Romania and Croatia are to be added to the US Visa Waiver Program. The EU had been pushing for the US to include Croatia and Romania, as well as Bulgaria and Cyprus and the former two have now been added.

What does this mean for Romanian and Croatian citizens visiting the US?

If citizens of Romania or Croatia want to travel to the US for business, tourism, medical or transit purposes, they are now able to apply for ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) instead of the much longer and more expensive process of applying for a US visa.

Applying for an ESTA is a very quick and simple process, involving answering a set of questions via an online form. The form takes around 20 minutes to complete and includes questions such as personal information, medical details and security questions such as criminal convictions.

Once you complete the ESTA application form, you pay the application fee and submit the form. Most applications will receive a response in less than 24 hours and the ESTA is electronically linked to the applicant’s passport. The fee for an ESTA is a small amount, while the fee for a US visa can be at least $180.

Who can apply for an ESTA?

To apply for an ESTA, the applicant must be a national of a VWP country, must have an electronic passport, a valid email address and an electronic payment card to pay the application fee with. They must also have a reliable internet connection to enable them to complete the online form and submit it without connectivity being dropped.

ESTA is only valid for visits to the US that are less than 90 days in duration and any Romanian or Croatian citizens who want to stay in the US for longer than 90 days would need to apply for the relevant type of visa for their trip instead.

Applying for a US visa involves attending an interview at the US Embassy, as well as completing longer amounts of paperwork, and you will usually be required to provide documents to support your application. For example, you may be required to present proof that you have the financial means to cover accommodation for your entire stay in the US. You may also be requested to provide proof of the return flight and your accommodation arrangements. If you are applying for a work or study visa, then you would be required to present proof of an offer from the company/college.

When an ESTA is approved, it is valid for two years, or until the passport expires, whichever date is sooner. With a valid ESTA, you are able to visit the US multiple times using the same ESTA and you can move around the different US states. It is important that ESTA holders do not overstay the 90 day limit in the US, as this can prevent them from having an ESTA or visa approved in the future.

How do countries qualify to be in the Visa Waiver Program?

There is a list of criteria that must be met before a country can be added to the countries in the VWP, including:

3% rule

One of the key requirements that must be met is that the number of visa applications that are rejected by the US Embassy is less than 3% of all applications from the country.

Enhanced law enforcement and sharing of security-related data

Another factor that is assessed is whether the country is deemed by the US government to have enhanced law enforcement in place, as well as adequate processes in place for sharing security-related data with the US.

E-passports

ESTAs are only issued on electronic passports, so countries that do not issue e-passports for their citizens would not be able to become members of the VWP.

Reporting of lost and stolen passports

There must also be a sufficient system in place whereby both blank and issued lost and stolen passports are reported swiftly.

High level of border control measures

Another requirement that must be fulfilled before the US will add a country onto the VWP list is whether the country maintains high counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control and document security.

The US government is in regular discussions with countries regarding their eligibility to be in the VWP and once the required criteria is met, the US will add them, just as they have done with Romania and Croatia.

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