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Country Qualification for Visa Waiver Program – VWP

Section 711 of the Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (911 Act) authorizes the expansion of, and added provisions for, strengthening the security of the VWP. The Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Department of State, evaluates the effect of a particular country’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program based on law enforcement and security interests of the United States. Countries are added or removed all the time as the situations change.

The countries are chosen based on how many of their applicants are refused U.S. visitor visas annually – the lower the refusal rate, the more the U.S. can presume the country’s applicants really intend to comply with the terms of their visa or entry. 

The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Department of States, may designate a country as a VWP participant country, if the following requirements are met:

  • The country allows reciprocal and easy visa-free travel back and forth to U.S. citizens to their country, as long as the purpose and duration of travel is similar to what is allowed under the Visa Waiver Program.

  • The country has certified that it has a program for issuing electronic passports (e-Passports). 

  • The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State
    • Prepares a report evaluating the effect the country’s designation would have on the United States’ law enforcement and security interests; and

    • Determines that the country’s designation for the program would not compromise United States law enforcement or national security interests, including interests in enforcing immigration laws.

  • The country must meet various security and other requirements, such as enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the U.S. and timely reporting of both blank and issued lost and stolen passports. 

  • The country maintains high counter-terrorism, law enforcement, border control, and document security standards.

Of course, meeting the objective requirements of the VWP does not guarantee that a particular country would be considered for the Visa Waiver Program, as it is at the discretion of the U.S. government. 

The Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of State, can waive the VWP statute of less than 3 percent visa refusal rate and increase it to the maximum of ten percent, provided the Secretary of Homeland Security certifies that:

  • An air exit system is in place that can verify the departures of at least 97 percent of foreign nationals who exit through U.S. airports; and 

  • An electronic travel authorization system is in place and is fully operational. 

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