Travel from Europe reopens. Why is Romania not in the visa waiver program?

The recent announcement by the Biden administration that travel restrictions from Europe would be eased for vaccinated travelers had long been delayed.

As transatlantic air travel is being really revived, the continued exclusion of some NATO European allies — Romania in particular — from the Visa Waiver Program remains a blatant omission that needs to be resolved quickly. .

The visa waiver program allows citizens of approved countries to come to the U.S. without a visa for up to 90 days with a travel authorization that is valid for two years.

In return, the 39 participating member nations share information with the US on serious criminals, terrorists and lost and stolen passports.

In addition to these obvious security dividends, the Visa Waiver program facilitates business travel and tourism between foreign countries and the U.S., and further strengthens the transatlantic link.

The experience of Europeans from visa waiver countries and non-participating countries who want to travel to the US, as The Heritage Foundation has written, is the difference between night and day:

The VWP allows citizens of member countries to come to the US without a visa. Instead, they must complete an online application to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), similar in concept to an electronic visa.

The ESTA travel authorization is similar to the visa verification process, but does not include an interview at a U.S. consulate, which makes it much shorter.

Recently, the US has expanded the number of members in the program, including the inclusion of Croatia earlier this year. Today, six European NATO allies remain out of the program: Albania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, Romania and Turkey.

Romania is by far the most startling omission. Bilateral ties between the United States and Romania have been strengthened in recent years, including with the signing of defense and 5G cooperation agreements, the acquisition of U.S. equipment, and frequent military exercises.

The description of Romania’s former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper as a “Black Sea security anchor” is accurate.

However, in the visa waiver program, Romania remains outward-looking, due to a visa denial rate of more than 3% (10.14% in fiscal year 2020). Countries must have a visa denial rate of less than 3%. However, Romania’s visa supervision rate is similar and, in some cases, better than that of the nations that are already part of the program.

Congress, for its part, has options to address Romania’s exclusion from the Visa Waiver Program, including allowing the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who oversees the program, the latitude to invite nations to join. with a slightly high visa denial rate, as long as you have a higher visa rate than your stay at the same time.

Congress could also evaluate alternative eligibility criteria that consider other national security goals, such as spending on defense by NATO members. (Romania meets both NATO spending benchmarks).

However, the final inclusion of a nation in the Visa Waiver Program, even after meeting all the criteria, is at the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security and the President. Ultimately, the speed with which Romania is included in the program may depend on the administration stating that program expansion is a priority.

In the case of Romania, priority should be given to expanding the visa waiver program. Romania is a valuable ally of the US that invests in defense and continues to look for ways to deepen the partnership with the US

His exclusion from the visa waiver program leaves a false impression that Romania is a second-tier ally, a message that can surely be attested by Romanians hoping to travel to the US, who have to navigate the visa process.

The announcement of Romania’s inclusion in the visa waiver program would go a long way in rectifying this impression, helping to further consolidate bilateral ties, while improving US security. It is a gain for the United States and Romania, and should be a no-brainer for the Biden administration.

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