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Visa Waiver Program Expanded But No Additional Spanish Speaking Countries Are Included

Most individuals who enter the U.S., must apply for nonimmigrant visas in order to enter the U.S.

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Most individuals who enter the U.S., with the exception of Canadian citizens (for whom special rules apply) and Mexican citizens who hold border crossing cards, must apply for nonimmigrant visas in order to enter the U.S. in any capacity, even for a brief visit. However, individuals from certain countries which the U.S. government believes are countries where the individuals entering the U.S. are less likely to overstay their permitted legal time have been able to shortcut this visa requirement under what is known as the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This program, administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was recently expanded to include seven new allies to the list of countries authorized. Unfortunately, none of these countries include any from Latin America.

DHS, noting that the expansion of the VWP creates easier travel for “legitimate tourists and travelers” has increased the number of participating VWP countries from 27 to 34.  DHS states:

Expanding the number of countries whose citizens can travel to the U.S. without a visa increases business and social ties between our countries and at the same time deepens cooperation on required security measures.

Effective November 17, 2008, the seven newly added countries are: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, the Republic of Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia. Previous countries, which continue to be on the list, include Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Why then is no Spanish speaking country, with the exception of Spain, included in this list? DHS explains how countries are chosen for participation:

��To be admitted to the VWP, a country must meet various security requirements, such as enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the United States and timely reporting of both blank and issued lost and stolen passports. VWP members are also required to maintain high counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, and document security standards.�� As a result of these information sharing measures, DHS is able to screen arriving VWP passengers far more effectively and to detect, apprehend, and limit the movement of terrorists, criminals, and other dangerous travelers.

DHS, however, does not explain a crucial factor which is considered when deciding who will be placed on this list: the risk of increased overstays and illegal immigration as a result of allowing individuals from that country to enter the U.S. For example, many years ago Argentina was included in the list of VWP countries, until the Argentinean government experienced great political turmoil which caused many Argentineans s to choose to remain in the U.S illegally. rather than return home. While the U.S. economy is certainly suffering ( as, even now, Congress debates a bailout for the auto industry which economically  impacts 1 out of every 10 individuals in the U.S.) and illegal immigration is down for the very same reason, the U.S. remains a country where the streets, perhaps not paved with the proverbial gold, are still paved with opportunities. Perhaps in the next few years, as the U.S. economy heals, we will see more Spanish speaking countries, whose economies are also healing, added to this list.

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