Chile Added to U.S. Visa-Waiver Program

By Roy Maurer Mar 4, 2014

Starting May 1, 2014, Chilean business travelers will be able to enter the United States for up to 90 days without applying for a visa.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced Feb. 28, 2014, that the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) would add Chile, the first Latin American country to be included.

Travelers will be required to apply for authorization in advance through the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

The online application collects biographic information and determines VWP eligibility. However, authorization via ESTA does not determine admissibility to the United States; U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers will do this upon travelers’ arrival.

Chile will join 37 other countries in the VWP. Taiwan, in November 2012, became the most recent country to be admitted.

In fiscal year 2013 the VWP accounted for about 19.6 million visits to the United States, or approximately 60 percent of tourist and business travelers entering the country by air, according to the DHS.

To be accepted into the program, Chile had to meet a number of requirements, including lowering its visa-refusal rate to below 3 percent, implementing electronic passports, modifying its extradition treaty with the U.S. and approving several cooperation agreements for solving serious crimes, including terrorist attacks.

In accordance with the VWP designation process, the DHS and the State Department determined that Chile is in compliance with key security and information-sharing requirements, such as enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the United States; timely reporting of lost and stolen passports; and the maintenance of high counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, aviation and document security standards.

Before being accepted into the program, Chile had to implement an electronic passport program. Only an electronic passport (with a chip that holds biographical data) will be accepted when applying for ESTA authorization.

The cost of a U.S. business visa for Chileans has been reduced from $160 to $14. Additionally, U.S. citizens entering Chile will no longer be required to pay its $160 reciprocity fee. The travel authorization will be valid for two years.

Individuals intending to study or work in the U.S. are not permitted to apply for the VWP.

Visa-Waiver Program Oversight Lacking, Critics Charge

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, called Chile’s inclusion in the program “troubling” and the VWP a “significant driver of illegal immigration.”

Before admitting any more countries into the program, Vaughan said, the DHS should implement a biometric entry-exit system that could be used to track and remove visitors who overstay. “The Government Accountability Office reported in July 2013 that, of a very large sample of possible overstays, nearly half were people who entered under the Visa Waiver Program,” she said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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