No More (Czech) Visas to America
In a historic and long-overdue piece of legislation, both houses of the U.S. Congress have passed a measure then signed by President George W. Bush allowing five new EU member states into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, amongst them the Czech Republic and Estonia. The program, previously extended to just 27 countries, mostly in Western Europe, allows select foreign nationals to travel to the USA without visas. Critics have long criticized the plan, as many countries in Central and Eastern Europe currently allow American citizens to travel there without a visa.
The EU has been pushing for several years for the US to allow citizens of the 10 (now 12) new Member States to be allowed into the waiver program, as all Member States allow American citizens entry without a visa. However, so far the EU has only gotten half their wish, with countries like Poland and Hungary excluded from the program for now. Visas to the US usually take four to ten days to obtain, but there is always a chance of rejection if the embassy suspects intentions of staying in the country illegally. The choice of the Member States added to the program came from looking at their visa application rejection rates - those with rates under 10% were allowed to join the program. With the new legislation, business and leisure travellers from the Czech Republic, Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Estonia will be allowed to enter the US with just their passports.
But Czech citizens shouldn't pack their bags just yet. The Czech Foreign Ministry estimates that the US visa requirements won't be lifted for about another two years, even though the legislation has been signed. At least throughout this summer, Czech travellers will have to deal with the paperwork if they want to see the Big Apple or the Grand Canyon. Luckily, there are enough wonders in Prague to explore for years to come!