The Latvia-U.S. Consular Working Group on Oct. 26 held its regular meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the purpose of joining the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The Under-Secretary of State of the Foreign Ministry, Edgars Skuja, noted that Latvia considers the introduction of a visa-free regime significant to both Latvia-U.S. and the EU-U.S. dialog.
The under-secretary also emphasized that Latvia's accession to the Visa Waiver Program is also a political process requiring the participation of Latvia's senior officials, mentioning the Latvian President's visit to the United States in June of 2006 and reciprocal visits by U.S. officials to Latvia.
The foreign ministers of the three Baltic States and of the Visegrad Group have agreed on joint measures and co-coordinated action to accelerate the introduction of a visa-free regime.
At the meeting of the working group, Latvia called on the representatives of the U.S. Embassy to provide information on the criteria for visa issuance so as to reduce the number of visa refusals for entry into the United States. The U.S. representatives were also briefed on the visits by the Schengen Evaluation Committee to Latvia, and on passport security and border control issues.
The parties agreed on the practical need for a visit to Latvia by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, so that it can ensure the security of Latvian passports and borders, thus anticipating the introduction of a visa-free regime.
The consular working group comprised the Under-Secretary of State of the Interior Ministry, Ilze Petersone, and other experts from the Ministry. The U.S. delegation was led by Phillip Antweiler, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Riga.
Latvia and the United States agreed on the Road Map or criteria necessary to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program in May 2005.
The U.S. Visa Waiver Program permits nationals from designated states to be admitted to the United States as tourists or on business for a period of up to 90 days without being required to obtain a visa.
The U.S. Visa Waiver program was launched in 1986 to promote better relations between the United States with partner countries, to promote mutual contacts between nationals of the U.S. and other countries and to facilitate international travel. At present, 27 countries, mainly the so-called "old EU members", have already joined the program.