Last week Greece was admitted as the 36th member nation of the Visa Waiver Program, (VWP). While this is certainly a welcome move for a program that hasn’t added a new member since 2008, it also highlights a real lack of willpower and effort by the White House to keep adding new member countries. In fact, DHS can barely add any new members right now because of the biometric exit mandate Congress linked to its waiver authority. The biometric mandate—which hasn’t gotten much of anywhere is a real stumbling block for the program—yet, the White House hasn’t even tried to pressure Congress to decouple them.
For a President who once emphasized, how we need “a new era of American diplomacy” he has done little to support VWP—which betters relations between the U.S. and its member nations. As explained by Heritage Analysts, the VWP offers many benefits to the U.S. and its allies. When travelers come to the United States, they spend billions of dollars in American restaurants, stores, and hotels, and also have the opportunity to bring positive experiences of the U.S. back to their home countries to be shared with others. While diplomatically, membership in the program serves as a real sign of trust to our allies—something they have expressed repeatedly throughout the program’s existence.
Prior to Greece’s admission, the Department of Homeland Security had identified several “road map” nations, that is, nations that were on the right path to becoming member nations. Yet as the White House has done little to foster their admittance and countries such as Poland, Romania, and Taiwan have clearly become frustrated.
The President needs to go out and make the case to Congress for VWP. He needs to talk about the 2007 security modifications that made this program a valuable counterterrorism tool. And he needs to explain how DHS should be granted permanent waiver authority to allow nations to join the VWP more readily. Likewise, the Visa Waiver Program must be decoupled from the mandate for biometric air-exit, which seriously limits the ability of the program to grow further. At the same time, ESTA, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, must remain user-friendly to allow member citizens to easily apply for entry, and older member nations must be held to the same security standards as new nations.
Bringing Greece into the program is progress for VWP, but other American allies are waiting…