New updates for the Visa Waiver Programme admitting Croatia
3 December 2020 - Thirty-four years ago, a trial program of the United States’ ESTA Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) was established by the US federal government. In 2000, the success of the programme led to its permanent status. At present, thirty-nine countries take part in the VWP. Citizens of these countries receive the benefits of a streamlined visa-free process for obtaining the required travel document to visit all 50 United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The convenient visa-free approval increases travel between the US and participating countries, which is of significant economic benefit for all countries involved.
This past October on a visit to Dubrovnik, Croatia, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the Croatian Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Gordan Grlic Radman. Secretary Pompeo stated that he expects Croatia to meet the requirements for acceptance into the VWP soon. This means Croatian citizens may soon be able to apply for the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) for visa-free visits to the US with a flexible 90-day limit. Minister Grlić Radman communicated that the decision for Croatia to join the VWP, “is being decided by various bodies in the United States with the support of the American embassy. I think we can expect a positive decision in the coming months.”
What criteria must a country meet to enter the US Visa Waiver Programme?
To be eligible for visa-free travel to the US, a country must first satisfy several qualifications. Joining the VWP requires that the following criteria have been met:
Citizens must be issued electronic passports
The nonimmigrant visa refusal rate must remain under 3% for at least two consecutive years
US citizens may enter the country without a visa requirement
Lost or stolen passports are reported to the US INTERPOL
Information regarding terrorism and serious criminal acts are shared with the US
Where is Croatia on the path to joining visa-free travel with ESTA?
Croatia has met most of the VWP requirements and is in the process of completing the final measures. On October 20, 2020, Croatia took another step closer to satisfying the requirements by signing a passenger data disclosure agreement with the US which aids in the prevention of terrorism and other serious international crimes. This document was signed by Croatia’s Minister of the Interior Davor Bozinovic and US Ambassador Robert Kohorst. In response to the signing, Minister Bozinovic declared “We have been finalizing technical matters on a daily basis to have visa requirements for Croatian nationals cancelled.” Of the eligibility criteria for admittance to the US VWP, all requirements have been met by Croatia expect for the visa refusal rate requirement. Croatia must lower their visa refusal rate. There has been steady progress in this endeavor. In the last three years the B1/B2 visa refusal rate has lowered from 5.9% to 4%. However, Croatia must get the rate to below 3% to reach the programme target.
A “Road map” and nominated countries for the VWP
The “Road map” countries have been in discussion with the US since 2005 regarding interest in joining or rejoining the VWP. Of the 19 original “road map” countries, 11 have already joined. Countries nominated for the VWP are between the beginning “road map” stage and the eligibility stage for the ESTA Visa Waiver. It is important to note that a country’s eligibility for the VWP can be removed at any time. This can happen if it is believed that a country may violate the requirements of visa-free US travel, which happened with both Argentina in 2002 and Uruguay in 2003 due to the financial crisis that occurred within each country.
European countries participation in visa-free travel to the United States
Most European Union (EU) countries have visa-free travel to the US and nationals of these countries are eligible for ESTA. Poland was most recently added to the VWP in 2019. Only Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania are not yet eligible for visa-free travel to the US. Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania are considered “road map” countries, while Croatia is not since having only recently joined the EU in 2013.
Benefits Croatians will have by taking part in the VWP
Obtaining the visa-free travel authorization is both faster and more convenient than the traditional visa application process. Here are a few benefits Croatians can look forward to with the VWP:
No in-person interview is required. The application and payment are both submitted online
Most applications are authorised for travel within 24 hours of applying
The VWP travel document is electronically linked to a passport via the passport’s data chip
Multiple trips to different destinations in the US may be taken using the same ESTA authorisation
Each trip to the US can last up to 90 days
Acceptable travel purposes with the ESTA visa
Most tourism and business trips of 90 days or less are eligible for visa-free travel. This travel authorisation is also required to transit the US even if the traveller does not leave the airport. Please visit our All About ESTA page to see the many additional acceptable travel purposes to the US visa-free, as well as to review which travel reasons will require a visa.
Is the ESTA authorisation process the same for all applicants?
The process of applying for visa-free travel to the US is the same for all applicants regardless of age. The application is also the same for all eligible ESTA countries. The online application may be completed in various languages other than English for the convenience of the applicant. Likewise, the printed authorization document may be in the language used to apply. All travel authorisation documents are considered acceptable by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regardless of the language in which they are printed. However, entrance to the US is never guaranteed and is always at the discretion of the CBP agents encountered.
More about ESTA approved travel
For more information about visa-free travel to the United States, we invite you to read our complete ESTA guide. Here you will find over 30 documents, logically categorized, that answer most common questions about travel to the US through the Visa Waiver Programme.
Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.