The outlook is promising for Cyprus to enter the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), but more work needs to be done, prerequisites to be met, and milestones achieved, said a Homeland Security official.
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the US Department of Homeland Security, Robert Paschall, was on the island for a short visit last week and met Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos.
He told the Cyprus News Agency there is a strong level of bilateral relations and commitment from both sides for the VWP.
The VWP falls under his office, in consultation with the State Department, to determine which countries are eligible.
Paschall said the program permits citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism stays for up to 90 days.
“So, you don’t need a visa anymore; it is much more simplified, the access is much easier, this is a great program, it is one of the best things the Department of Homeland Security does.
“First of all, it is a security program, and it is also a travel facilitation program, and it strengthens people-to-people ties.
“So, all those things are very important, and it allows for countries such as the US and Cyprus who keep ties and relationships, to deepen them”.
Homeland Security works closely with countries like Cyprus who want to be part of the VWP to ensure they qualify, as there are very strict requirements set by Congress- since it is a visa security program- to ensure that both countries are safe.
“What the program does…is raise the bar for both countries and ensure that everyone is more safe through the travel continuum.”
Paschall said the whole process is lengthy, but they are working to ensure that “we keep moving forward”.
He said there are many different milestones that need to be hit.
“Through the Embassy and our relations, bilaterally with the Government of Cyprus, it’s important that we keep talking and going forward to trying to expedite the entry of Cyprus into the visa waiver program”.
Requirements range from information sharing and working back and forth.
“Just making sure that we have an understanding of security and all that is going on through travel.
“So right now, we are working on making sure that those connections are solid, that the information flows both ways and that we have the ability to work with Cyprus so that the requirements of the program are met.”
Paschall said it requires a lot of work on both sides, “but the promise is good, and we are moving forward in a very positive relationship”.
He said the commitment is there, and “it is very obvious that the government will is there and that they wanna move forward with us, and the commitment on our part is there as well”.
“So, anything worthwhile doing requires commitment, requires work on both sides, and I see that from both sides.”
US Ambassador Julie Fisher said also they had a productive discussion with the Foreign Minister.
“And one of the things that I think is particularly useful of the work that we have done in recent months is this new structure that President Christodoulides has established around this process”, Fisher said.
“We really very much appreciate the commitment that has been shown to advance these efforts, and we get a senior here like Bob, and it means we can make the most out of a short visit.
“I won’t speak of what came before, but simply say that the way in which we are organising around it together, I think it’s pretty productive”.
Some 40 countries participate in the US Visa Waiver Program, and 24 are EU Member states, with Cyprus one of the few left out. (source CNA)