Hungarian American Coalition Supports Visa Waiver Program Currently Debated in the U.S. Senate

Washington, D.C. – The Hungarian American Coalition issued a letter to its members and community leaders to contact their Senators and request their support for the inclusion of the Visa Waiver Provisions (VWP) in the currently debated bill S.4 (“Improving America’s Security by Implementing Unfinished Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007” sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid D-NV). If the bill S.4 does include the VWP, this opens the possibility that citizens of Hungary will be able to travel to the U.S. without a visa.

The bill was discussed on the Senate floor on Wednesday, February 28. Senator Feinstein (D-CA) proposed an amendment (No. 271) that requires establishing a system to track overstays from any VWP country, as well as establishing a “cap” on overstays for VWP countries. The amendment was viewed as important for security and immigration control, and was adopted.

It is important to note that the discussions on S.4 have just begun, and probably will last for at least one more week, which means that there may be other developments. The Coalition stressed that it is crucial to let their Senators know how important it is to Hungarian Americans include the Visa Waiver Program in the S.4 legislation.

For more information of the current legislation see the attached background information sheet, as well as full report on the VWP, available at the reports section on our website at www.hacusa.org.

* *** *

BACKGROUND INFORMATION
ON THE VISA WAIVER PROGRAM

The US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) was established in 1986 to facilitate the entry of visitors from allied countries that meet certain security standards. Citizens of program countries travel for business or tourism to the US for up to 90 days without a visa.

Currently, 27 countries participate in the program. Since 1999 no new countries have been admitted to the program. Throughout the term of the 109th Congress numerous bills were introduced to amend the current Visa Waiver Program and facilitate the expansion of the program.

Most notably, in 2006, a comprehensive reform bill of the current immigration law was on the congressional agenda. As part of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, Senate approved an amendment supported by Sen. Rick Santorum and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (S.4000) that would have expanded the VWP to certain EU member-states for a probationary period of 2 years. The Santorum bill included the requirement of a “material support” of 300 troops for US operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. With the midterm elections, and the forming of the new Congress, however, it never became law.

With the forming of the 110th Congress, there has been renewed lobbying for revising the VWP. In effect, on January 18, R. Phil English (R-PA) introduced in the House of Representatives the Secure Travel and Counter Terrorism Partnership Act to expand the visa waiver program to countries on a probationary basis (H.R. 561).

On January 22, S. George Voinovich (D-OH) introduced bill S.342. under the same title which was later expanded by a secondary amendment of Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). The extended version of the Voinovich bill (S.653) is a most comprehensive reform proposal of the VWP since it was established.

Most notably, the Voinovich legislation would:

  • Expand the VWP to countries that are US allies in the Global War on Terror for a probationary period of three years

  • Not limit the number of countries that can join the program.

  • Require that the DHS build an airport exit-tracking system so that the United States has the best information about travelers in the program and their VWP compliance.

  • Not set a concrete refusal rate requirement.

  • Require the Secretary of Homeland Security to improve the methodology of calculating visa overstays.

On February 15, the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee voted to add the Voinovich amendment to S.4, “Improving America’s Security by Implementing Unfinished Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007”.

The full Senate will consider S.4 for passage in the coming weeks.

Recent Posts
Archives