Since April 1, 2016, which saw the introduction of the ‘e-passport’ as a prerequisite for gaining entry into the United States using an ESTA, there has been very little going on with the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
Well, except for the fear of what a Trump Presidency might mean for the program, the bogus VWP reports sprouting up in a few countries, and the new waiver of visa requirements the Brazilian government is considering and what it means for U.S. citizens.
If you haven’t used or heard of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, it allows qualified international travellers to visit the U.S. for business or pleasure and stay for no more than 90 days without a visitor’s visa. To be eligible, you must be a citizen of one of the thirty-eight countries under the program, must have an e-passport, and must not have visited Syria, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen since March 1, 2011.
Unlike the visitor’s visa, which requires a $160 application fee, and which can take up to seven days to process, an ESTA requires only $14 to procure (that is, a $4 processing fee and an additional $10 issuance fee if your application is approved) and doesn’t take more than three days to acquire. In fact, an ESTA can be processed instantly.
Considering the convenience that comes with procuring an ESTA, it’s no wonder many countries in the world want to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program to make it easier for their citizens to enter the U.S. on their business and tourist travels. Unfortunately for countries like Cyprus, Brazil, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago, the privileges of the VWP are yet to be realised.
Of the abovementioned countries, the country that stands a chance to become the 39th member of the VWP is Cyprus. Cyprus is one of the few European countries outside the program, but this is mainly because Cyprus didn’t initially issue biometric passports. Now that the country has started issuing e-passports and has even signed an agreement with the U.S. to promote improved coordination against serious crimes, especially terrorism, Cyprus is one step closer to becoming a part of the Visa Waiver Program.
Sadly, either Cypriots are in a haste to join the program or someone attempted to defraud them, but failed, thanks to the quick response from the United States embassy in Nicosia. Following the rumours circulating Cyprus that the nation had been added to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, the United States Embassy in the country in early November 2016 denied the reports, saying they were false and that Cyprus doesn’t yet meet the requirements for admission into the VWP. The embassy went on to affirm that Cypriots still need a visa to enter the U.S.
The rumours didn’t end with Cyprus. Either it was mere coincidence, or someone decided to spread the same controversy around the same period (October/November, 2016) in the Americas.
In the case of Barbados, it all seemed like a ploy by fraudsters to exploit Barbadians who couldn’t help but rejoice over the fake news (fed to them via social media) that they no longer needed a visa to travel to the United States for business or pleasure. While a $4 fake ESTA application fee may not feel like much of a loss to Barbadian businesspeople and tourists, it can become a big win for a scammer once a few thousand enthusiastic applicants have applied.
Luckily for Barbadians who received the news that their country had become the 39th member of the US Visa Waiver Program via WhatsApp and Facebook from a source claiming to be the United States’ Department of State, the US Embassy in Barbados issued an official message via their Facebook account soon enough, denying the claim. At least, no one got defrauded. Also, if the news was spewed with fraudulent intents, no one really knows.
Around the same time, the same false VWP news rocked Trinidad and Tobago via social media sites, saying that the country was on the list of nations that no longer required a visa to visit the United States. The U.S. embassy in the country promptly released a statement reminding travellers who wish to visit the United States for business or pleasure using Trinidad and Tobago passports, that a valid visa is still required for them to gain entry into the U.S.
While the fake news roamed Cyprus, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil was busy considering extending (for a trial period of twelve months) their waiver of visa requirements offered to travellers from the United States, Japan, Canada, and Australia during the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
The consideration isn’t just an attempt to boost tourism in Brazil. It’s also a ploy to get the aforementioned countries, especially the U.S., to extend a reciprocal waiver of visa requirements to Brazilians. With Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, the future of that ploy already looks bleak.
Brazil is obviously not happy about their exclusion from the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. In fact, Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called for the U.S. to be removed from their waiver of visa requirement program since the U.S. excluded Brazil from its Visa Waiver Program. The logic is that if Brazilians are paying a $160 visa fee to enter the U.S., then Americans have to pay a similar amount to obtain a Brazilian visa.
Speaking of Donald Trump as the next US president, countries currently in the US Visa Waiver Program can’t help but dread impending changes in ESTA rules. Even Britain, one of America’s closest allies, can’t help but wonder what a Trump presidency would mean for Brits and the privilege to travel to the U.S. without a visa.
When you consider that the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act) rendered many EU citizens (who have visited Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen since March 1, 2011, or who are also nationals of Iraq, Iran, Syria, or Sudan) ineligible for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, you begin to see why the member countries of the VWP fear another change to the program.
The best we can all do is cross our fingers while we wait to see what happens.