Process for Admitting Additional Countries into the Visa Waiver Program

GAO-06-835R Published: Jul 28, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 05, 2006.
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The Visa Waiver Program enables citizens of 27 participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa. The program was created to promote the effective use of government resources and to facilitate international travel without jeopardizing U.S. national security. Indeed, in fiscal year 2004, more than 15 million travelers entered the United States under this program. The United States last expanded the Visa Waiver Program's membership in 1999 with the addition of Portugal, Singapore, and Uruguay; in recent years, other countries have expressed a desire to become members. In addition, Members of Congress have recently introduced bills calling for the expansion of the program. In February 2005, President Bush announced that the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and State (State) would develop a strategy, or "Road Map Initiative," to clarify to prospective candidates the statutory requirements for designation as a participating country--and work with countries to help them comply with these requirements. In response to a Congressional request, this report describes (1) the process for gaining admission into the Visa Waiver Program and (2) the U.S. government's plans for admitting additional countries into the program. To examine the criteria for expanding the Visa Waiver Program, we reviewed laws establishing the program, agency protocols governing the program, and DHS's Office of Inspector General reports. In addition, we reviewed relevant documentation and interviewed DHS and Consular Affairs Bureau officials in Washington, D.C., to determine the status of the President's initiative.

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