WASHINGTON: US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Tuesday (Oct 27) the United States is considering adding four countries to its visa waiver programme that allows citizens to come to America without a visa for a stay of up to 90 days.
"We have four candidates in the pipeline: Israel, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania," Mayorkas said on Tuesday at a travel industry event. "We're very, very focused on the programme," he added, saying it provides significant economic and security benefits.
In September, the United States added Croatia to the visa waiver programme. US Travel Association Chief Executive Roger Dow said on Tuesday adding Croatia is a US$100 million boost to the US economy.
"Each time you add one of these countries, the travel just booms," Dow said.
The White House said in August after a meeting between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that Biden emphasised "his administration would strengthen bilateral cooperation with Israel in ways that would benefit both US citizens and Israeli citizens, including by working together towards Israel’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program".
Mayorkas also met with Israel's US ambassador in August and discussed the waiver issue.
In February, Mayorkas spoke with the European Commission’s Commissioner for Home Affairs and both "expressed their continued interest in maintaining the US-EU Passenger Name Record Agreement and working with Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania to meet the qualifications for the Visa Waiver Program".
To participate in the programme, a country must meet requirements related to counterterrorism, law enforcement, immigration enforcement, document security, and border management.
There are currently 40 countries in the programme.
"These requirements include having a rate of nonimmigrant visa refusals below 3 per cent, issuing secure travel documents, and working closely with US law enforcement and counterterrorism authorities," DHS said last month.