U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff signed Visa
Waiver Program (VWP) Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with Estonian Minister of
Internal Affairs Juri Pihl in Tallinn, Estonia, and with Latvian Minister of Foreign
Affairs Maris Riekstins in Riga, Latvia. The agreements outline security enhancements
that put both countries on the path toward visa-free travel to the U.S., and possible
designation as VWP members later this year.
The VWP has been authorized by U.S. law for over 20 years, with 27 current members
from Asia and Europe. The U.S. Congress authorized DHS in August 2007 to reform
the VWP and strengthen the security arrangements required of existing participant
countries, as well as to expand the conditions for aspiring countries to join
Among the security enhancements required, DHS will establish an electronic system
of travel authorization for air passengers. VWP travelers will be asked to provide
some basic information online, which will generate an authorization number for
travel. DHS will announce complete details on how the authorization systems will
work, and when they will begin, later this year. VWP partners also must ensure
reporting of lost and stolen passports to avoid fraudulent use and enhance security
measures for airports that originate flights to the U.S., to include permitting
air marshals on certain flights.
The department signed the first enhanced VWP agreement with the Czech Republic
on Feb. 26, 2008, who committed to meeting the new requirements of the program,
to include an electronic system of travel authorization.