Visa-free travel to America a close reality

  • 2005-03-09
  • By TBT staff
RIGA - Latvian Ambassador to the U.S.A. Maris Riekstins emerged from a meeting March 3 with State Department officials and fellow EU ambassadors with news of a possible visa-free travel regime to America within the next two years.

Present at the meeting were the ambassadors of Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.

"Americans want us to improve the quality of our passports and introduce biometric data in our travel documents," Riekstins told the Baltic News Service, bringing up key security requirements for implementing visa-free travel.

These changes are mandatory for all European countries.

Riekstins added that visa violations - either by citizens or the state - could affect America's decision of whether or not to add the country to its visa-free list, which currently includes all older EU member states, with the exception of Greece.

The ambassador stressed that America had not given any "guarantee" that lifting the visa restrictions was imminent.

"We understand that preparations for the introduction of a visa-free regime will take time, and we are in the position of following the requirements laid down in U.S. law," Lithuania's Ambassador to the U.S.A. Vygaudas Usackas reportedly said at the meeting.

Currently, citizens from 27 countries can enjoy travel to America without the cost and trouble of getting a visa. Legislation states that countries can only gain visa-free travel when 3 percent or less of visa requests are turned down. Control over lifting the visa requirements belongs to the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. State Department has yet to make an official statement regarding the matter.