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Visa Waiver Changes

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Changes to Visa Waiver Program on Horizon

Many businesses in today's global economy depend on the visa waiver program (VWP) for the expedient travel of their international personnel, executives, and clients.  Traditionally, the VWP has allowed citizens of 27 countries, mainly located in Europe and Asia, to travel to the U.S. without a visa for purposes of business or pleasure.  Typically, eligible business travelers will utilize the VWP when coming to the U.S. for emergency meetings, business deals or conferences.

Employers should be aware that the VWP is undergoing several significant changes.  Beginning on September 30, 2004, the Department of Homeland Security began enrolling VWP visitors in US-VISIT.  All WWP participants should be prepared to have their index fingerprints taken along with a digital photo and their biographical information entered into the US-VISIT database.  Along with this entry procedure, travelers enrolled in US-VISIT will be required to properly register their exit.  As of October 26, 2004, all visa waiver travelers also must present a machine-readable passport for entry to the U.S.  Those individuals who do not have a machine-readable passport cannot utilize the VWP and must first obtain a visa at the U.S. consulate.  This extra step could delay a trip to the U.S. by weeks or months.

October 2004 also had marked the date by which countries participating in the VWP had to certify that they were issuing to their citizenry passports that contained biometric identifiers.  Travelers who had been issued such a passport would then have to present it for entry into the U.S. for entry under the VWP.  However, due to an appeal by the Secretaries of the Departments of Homeland Security and State, and evidence indicating that countries would have been unable to comply with this stringent biometric deadline, Congress passed and the President signed into law (P.L. 108-299) a one-year extension, to October 26, 2005, of these biometric requirements.

Detailed information regarding the VWP can be found at http:/ /www.americanlaw.com/vwpp.html.

Links to a sampling of articles concerning the Visa Waiver Program and displeasure of some countries that are not part of the program follow: