VILNIUS - Lithuanians will soon be able to enjoy visa-free entry into the United States following the signing of the required documents for the agreement on Sept. 29.
The only obstacle impeding a lifting of restrictions is the number of rejected visa applications filed by Lithuanian citizens, said Undersecretary to the Foreign Ministry Oskaras Jusys.
For the visa program to be altered, the percentage of visa applications rejected must be less than 10 percent. In 2006, that figure was 27.7 percent. Jusys reported, however, that the target was reached last year.
A U.S. embassy spokesperson in Vilnius told The Baltic Times that it is unclear when visa-free travel will become available to Lithuanians.
Negotiations for visa-free travel to the U.S. have been hindered by repeat instances of tourist-visa overstays and illegal employment in the U.S. But Lithuania's accession to the European Union in 2004 saw the opening of legal labor markets in Western Europe and stable improvements in the economic situation, which has made the U.S. less attractive for employment and emigration.
All documents necessary for Lithuania to adopt a U.S. visa-free regime had been signed, President Valdas Adamkus said in a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush.
"It is very important and symbolic that the last legal document which will open up a possibility for Lithuanian citizens to travel freely to the USA was signed today. I thank President Bush for his leadership and for the consistent efforts of his administration," Adamkus said.
"The visa-free regime will bring our people still closer together and will open up new opportunities for economic and cultural cooperation," Adamkus added.
An agreement on the mutual exchange of information on known or suspected terrorists was signed by Lithuania's State Security Department and the U.S. Terrorist Screening Center in Vilnius. It was the last document to be signed before the visa-free regime could be granted to Lithuania for travels to the U.S.
Similar agreements have been signed by other EU member states.
The agreement is intended help the two states fight terrorism and lays down the procedure for the exchange and use of information on terrorism suspects.
The Lithuanian and U.S. presidents also discussed the situation in Ukraine and Georgia, the elections in Belarus, relations with Russia, bipartisan cooperation and energy security.
Adamkus said bilateral relations continue to be close, intensive and friendly, and that Lithuania and the U.S. are close allies in securing peace and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush thanked Adamkus for his important role and firm leadership in supporting democratic reform among the EU's eastern neighbors.
Adamkus noted that Lithuania, like all other Baltic states, wants constructive relations with Russia built on mutual respect and international legal principles, but added that Russia's treatment of its neighbors raises concerns.
Adamkus is due to return to Lithuania Sept. 30.