Cyprus Steps Up Efforts to Join US Visa Waiver Program

Cyprus has accelerated its efforts to join the US Visa Waiver Program, so that its citizens can visit the United States visa-free, by establishing a working group together with Washington, the main duty of which is to expedite the issue.

Only this week, the Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, Interior Minister Nicos Nourish, and Justice Minister of Justice George Savvides conducted a meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl C. Risch, during a visit of the latter to Cyprus.

According to of press release of the Foreign Ministry of Cyprus, the working group compromising of functionaries from both countries would “speed up efforts aimed at bringing the process [joining the VWP] to fruition as soon as possible”.

Throughout the meeting, the Ministers discussed with Secretary Risch ways to strengthen ties between the two nations and agreed to continue and enhance bilateral contacts in a bid to monitor and manage matters of a consular nature.

The US Visa Waiver Program is a program administered by the Department of Homeland Security. It allows the citizens of 39 countries to travel to the United States without a visa and stay up to 90 days, for purposes the same as those for the B1 visa or the B2 visa.

However, these travelers need to apply online for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). One ESTA application costs $14 and is valid for up to two years for multiple trips to the United States. Travelers need to apply for ESTA at least 72 hours before the planned trip.

The US State Department has been conducting discussions with countries known as ‘road map countries’ which interested in joining the VWP since 2005. Cyprus is one of these countries.

Poland was the last country to join the US VWP, in November last year, after years of attempts to become part of it. At the same time, Poland was the last Schengen member state the citizens of which gained the benefit of traveling visa-free to the United States.

Currently, four other non-Schengen EU countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and Cyprus – are non-participating in the US Visa Waiver Program. Their passport holders still have to obtain B1/B2 visas when traveling for tourism or business purposes to the US.

In 2016, the European Commission had urged the US authorities to provide Poland and the other four with the right to travel visa-free just like the majority of EU citizens, what hasn’t happened yet.

In December, Croatian officials claimed that Croatia is also nearing an agreement with the United States to join the VWP.

For both Croatia and Cyprus to join the program, they must have a rejection rate of B1/B2 visas under 3% of applications submitted by their nationals.