President George W. Bush has signed legislation that includes provisions designed to extend and strengthen the Visa Waiver Program.
The Visa Waiver Program currently allows citizens from 27 countries to visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. The new law will expand the program by as many as 12 nations, including South Korea and several Central and East European countries, provided they qualify for the program by demonstrating that their citizens observe visa stay deadlines and maintain a refusal rate of 10 percent or lower for applicants seeking U.S. travel visas.
The legislation also requires the Department of Homeland Security to implement an electronic travel authorization system.
In an interview U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff gave to German publication Der Spiegel, Chertoff said the ETA would be similar to a system Australia is using. Under this system, passengers from VWP countries traveling into the United States will be required to register online with DHS at least two days in advance of their travel dates.
Under the law, VWP passengers would be required to provide “biographical information and such other information as the Secretary of Homeland Security shall determine necessary to determine the eligibility of, and whether there exists a law enforcement or security risk in permitting, the alien to travel to the United States.” This could include planned personal and business itineraries, such as business meetings.
Since Bush signed the new law, officials from the European Union have announced they may implement their own ETA system—which would require U.S. citizens traveling to European Union countries to electronically register before they travel—as a response to the U.S. action.