Croatia’s late entry into visa waiver program highlights allies being left behind

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The appointment of Croatia by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to join the visa waiver program is a long overdue but welcome move that will advance U.S. security and strengthen bilateral relations with an important ally in the United States. NATO in the Balkans.

The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of approved countries to come to the United States without a visa for up to 90 days and a travel authorization valid for two years. In return, the 39 member countries share information with the United States on serious criminals, terrorists and lost and stolen passports.

In addition to the security dividends, the visa waiver program facilitates business travel and tourism between foreign countries and the United States and further strengthens the transatlantic bond.

CroatiaThe addition of Visa Waiver Program, announced Monday by Blinken, is the first since the inclusion of Poland in November 2019. These recent program extensions benefit both the United States and our Croatian and Polish allies.

The symbiotic nature of the visa waiver program further underscores the need for the United States to assess other eligibility criteria, which will allow remaining NATO allies, including Bulgaria and Romania-To take part.

To be invited to join, countries must make certain improvements, especially those that help to ensure passport control practices are secure. For example, the issuance of secure and machine-readable biometric electronic passports (which are physical passports with an electronic chip).

Countries are also required to have a visa denial rate of less than 3%. Croatia visa refusal rate for 2020 fell at 2.69%, well within requirements.

Yet the final inclusion of a country in the visa waiver program, even after meeting all the criteria, is at Washington’s discretion.

The decision of the Biden administration to name Croatia is the correct one.

Some allies of the United States such as Bulgaria (12.52%) and Romania (10.14%) continue to have visa refusal rate well above 3%. A much better metric to take into account is the visa overrun rate, which provides a clearer assessment of the risk of overstaying, since that’s exactly what it measures.

Both Bulgaria and Romania have minute visa overrun rates similar and in some cases better than those of countries already enrolled in the visa waiver program.

Congress should grant the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the program, the latitude to invite countries to join with a slightly high visa denial rate, provided they simultaneously have a low overrun rate. visa.

Congress should also assess the alternative eligibility which takes into account other national security objectives, such as the defense spending of NATO members (Romania meets both NATO spending criteria, Bulgaria meets to one of the two).

Since its inception in 1986, the Visa Waiver Program has benefited both the United States and participating countries. It facilitates movement between the United States and its allies, strengthens security measures in participating countries and ensures a robust exchange of information on areas critical to the security of the United States.

Croatia is a valuable ally of the United States, and its inclusion in the visa waiver program helps strengthen bilateral relations and improve United States security.

While laudable, Croatia’s long-awaited inclusion highlights the glaring omission of Bulgaria and Romania, who remain on the outside. It’s an omission that Congress and the Biden administration would do well to rectify quickly.

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