Expansion of the Visa Waiver Program beyond the existing 27 VWP countries is progressing as the United States has signed memorandums of understanding with several countries seeking to join the program.
These memorandums of understanding detail the security enhancements that need to be implemented before these countries can participate in the Visa Waiver Program. For example, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will have to establish an electronic system of travel authorization for air passengers so that VWP travelers can provide some basic information online. That information will be used to generate an authorization number for travel. VWP countries must also introduce e-passports and have systems in place to report lost and stolen passports.
South Korea last week became the most recent country to sign a memorandum of understanding, and its inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program is expected to become effective by the end of 2008. The U.S. has also signed VWP agreements with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, and Malta.
The expansion of the program is designed to ease the entry of foreign visitors into the U.S. while maintaining high security standards. Another program developed to improve both border security and the experience of international travelers is the Model Ports initiative.
First implemented at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston and Washington Dulles International Airport, the program is being expanded to 18 more of the country’s largest airports. Features of the program include videos (currently shown in Spanish, French, German, and English) that assist travelers through the customs and immigration process, the availability of a “Welcome to the U.S.” brochure, and the implementation of new multilingual directional signage. In coming months, travelers arriving at these airports will see more improvements, including an increased number of video monitors, welcome messages, and information on the entry process.
The 18 additional airports in the program include New York (JFK); Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and Sanford, Fla.; Los Angeles; Newark, N.J.; Chicago (O’Hare); Honolulu; San Francisco; Atlanta; Dallas/Fort Worth; Detroit; Boston; Las Vegas; Seattle; Philadelphia; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.