Monday, January 22, 2007
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, along with U.S. Rep. Phil English (R-PA), today introduced bipartisan legislation that would extend visa-free travel privileges to our allies in the Global War on Terror.
The Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act of 2007 would improve cooperation with key allies while strengthening U.S. national security interests and promoting U.S. economic competitiveness. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) are original co-sponsors of the Senate bill.
“There are many countries helping us thwart terrorism around the world and they should be rewarded for their continued cooperation,” Sen. Voinovich said. “This legislation will improve both our national security and economic interests while helping to solidify relationships and improve good will toward the United States for years to come. I will work closely with the administration and my colleagues in the Senate as we move forward to show our allies that we appreciate their help in this historic fight.”
“Our existing visa waiver policies have proven to be a burden to America’s relationship with our friends on the other side of the Atlantic,” Rep. English, the prime sponsor of the House companion bill, H.R. 561, said. “By granting visa waiver status to these countries, we will not only reward our loyal allies that have provided valuable assistance in the War on Terror but also strengthen economic partnerships to further promote the free flow of people and commerce.”
Sen. Voinovich’s legislation authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Department of State, to expand the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to countries that support the United States and are prepared to do everything in their power to help keep terrorists from crossing our borders.
“I believe this bill effectively demonstrates Congressional concern yet does not seek to dictate to the administration which of our strategic partners should be included in the program,” Sen. Lugar said. “Such compromises are the hallmark of good legislation, and I look forward to seeing this bill signed into law.”
“The expansion of the successful Visa Waiver Program will enhance our nation’s security by strengthening relationships with our allies,” Sen. Akaka said. “And it will boost our nation’s economy, particularly in states which depend upon tourism, like Hawaii.”
“I have fought for years to expand the VWP so our allies can visit family and conduct business in the United States without standing in line to get a visa,” Sen. Mikulski said. “We know that our borders will be no less secure because of these visitors. But we know that our alliance will be more secure because of this legislation.”
Sen. Voinovich believes that expanding the VWP will bring clear benefits for our immediate and long-term national security interests. Countries would be eligible to participate in the program only after the executive branch certifies that they do not pose a security or law enforcement threat to the United States.
All participants would be required to implement enhanced travel security requirements, negotiate new agreements on counterterrorism cooperation and critical information-sharing and further demonstrate their close cooperation with the United States in the Global War on Terror. The legislation would also require the U.S. government to report to Congress on its plans for further enhancing security standards for existing VWP countries.
“In addition to promoting U.S. national security interests, my bill will increase business ties and tourism, benefiting our economy and competitiveness for years to come,” Sen. Voinovich said. “This is a smart move that will advance America’s strategic interests.”
The VWP was established in 1986 to improve relations with U.S. allies and benefit the U.S. economy. The program permits nationals from selected countries to enter the United States for tourism or business without a visa for up to 90 days. Currently, 27 countries participate in the program.
Although numerous countries have expressed a desire to participate in the VWP, and a willingness to cooperate with the necessary security requirements, no new countries have been admitted since 1999. President Bush recently called on Congress to expand the VWP to deserving nations, and has previously identified 13 “Road Map” countries as potential candidates for future participation. These include Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and South Korea.