Rep. Dan Lipinski recently proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would advance the Visa Waiver Program, and although the amendment from the Illinois Democrat was declared not in order by the House Rules Committee, the sound policies that it calls for should be pursued by Congress.
The amendment would give NATO allies an alternative method for entering the Visa Waiver Program.
Currently, aspirant countries in NATO could follow the existing process of maintaining a low nonimmigrant visa refusal rate (the percentage of visas refused by consular officers).
The amendment would have allowed such nations to meet the new benchmark of maintaining a low visa overstay rate as well as spending enough on their militaries to meet NATO benchmarks.
Specifically, the new path would require countries to have visa overstay rates of no more than 2%. That’s a shift from the standing policy of measuring the nonimmigrant visa refusal rate alone when determining eligibility for joining the program, making use of the more accurate and useful visa overstay rate.
Additionally, countries applying to join the program must have committed sufficient resources to NATO in support of their obligations under the alliance’s Wales Summit Declaration. That generally means spending at least 2% of a country’s gross domestic product on its military.
The creation of a specific set of entry requirements for the Visa Waiver Program for NATO members is a demonstration of the relationship of respect between the United States and its allies, and it would boost legal tourism and travel between them.
It would also reduce the disparity between NATO members already in the Visa Waiver Program and those that aren’t. That would be a beneficial measure, especially for countries, such as Poland, that face an existential threat from countries with growing influence, especially Russia and China.
It also rewards nations that are meeting their obligations to, and participating fully in, the transatlantic alliance.
The Visa Waiver Program has proven to be highly beneficial for the U.S., as it significantly boosts the travel sector of the economy.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, nonimmigrant admissions from Visa Waiver Program member countries totaled more than 20 million in 2017, or almost 30% of the total.
The program is a boon for national security as well, as shared information from Visa Waiver Program participants has aided criminal investigations and counterterrorism vetting in the U.S.
The changes proposed by Lipinski to allow more NATO members to join the Visa Waiver Program would amplify the existing benefits of the program to both the United States and its allies and produce an attainable path to entry for committed allies, such as Poland.
Congress should look for an opportunity to advance those policies sooner rather than later.