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State Dept. Spokesman Addresses EU Countries' Eligibility for Visa Waiver Program; Continuation of Belgium in Program

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 04051812 (posted May. 18, 2004)"

Excerpt from 5/13/04 State Dept. Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION: I want to change the subject, if I could. Yesterday, in meetings with Deputy Secretary Armitage, these two officials from the EU asked for the United States to expand the Visa Waiver Program to include all EU members. I presume that means that they want Greece, which wasn't in the program before but was in the EU before May 1st, as well as nine out of the ten because Slovenia, one of the new ones, is already in the Visa Waiver Program, that they want all of those countries, citizens of those countries, to be able to come in the U.S. without visas.

What was the response, and how likely is that to -- how likely is that?

MR. BOUCHER: The United States will look at these countries on a country-by-country basis, but they -- really, participation in the Visa Waiver Program is a matter of statute, it's a matter of law. The criteria for a company* to be nominated for Visa Waiver Program participation are that the country have a nonimmigrant visa applicant refusal rate of less than 3 percent, a _____________________

* Speaker misspoke, meant to say The criteria for a country

machine-readable passport program in place, that they demonstrate adequate safeguards against fraudulent use of passports, and be sufficiently stable to ensure that conditions which could affect the program-qualifying criteria are not likely to change in the future.

Once nominated, the country must demonstrate that it has effective border controls in place for all territory under its control and that the country's law enforcement must demonstrate significant cooperation with U.S. counterparts, as well as international entities such as Interpol.

So those are the criteria that are applied that must be applied by law and that would be applied to any EU members. We are certainly willing to look at this in terms of any given government, but actually qualifying for the program requires meeting those statutory requirements.

QUESTION: Well, in fact, isn't -- aren't you more likely, at least at the moment, to drop at least one EU country from the Visa Waiver Program, Belgium, which is kind of on a double secret probation?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to make any prediction. We, as you know, regularly review countries that are in the Visa Waiver Program to ensure that all the criteria are continuing to be met. And we have had discussions with the Belgian Government, along with other governments about that, but I wouldn't make any prediction on that, at this moment.

QUESTION: Can you just make -- is it not correct that Belgium has been warned that it may be dropped --

MR. BOUCHER: I'll check on what I can say about the exact status from Belgium. We've had discussions about the criteria, and making sure that all the various safeguards are in place, and if we're satisfied they will continue.

QUESTION: Are you under the impression right now that any -- either Greece or any of the nine of the 10 newcomers that are not in the program now, if any of them come close to meeting these criteria?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we --

QUESTION: Or has it never been --

MR. BOUCHER: We don't necessarily publish refusal rates on governments, but we always do look at the countries that are coming close or are becoming eligible. So I'm sure we'll be willing to look at it for countries that may be coming close on that. But, at this point, it's a country-by-country determination.

And, as I said, we're happy to look at it for countries that join the -- are joining the EU, but they're going to have to meet the requirements if we are able to accept them under the law.

 
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