Baltic American Freedom League (BAFL) urges you to support H.R. 1543: To Expand Visa Waiver Program to Countries on a Probationary Basis, and for Other Purposes.
BAFL supports the American Latvian Association (ALA) and their Call to Action on this important issue affecting the Baltic countries. Please read the following letter and we encourage you to act accordingly and contact your Representative today.
Representatives Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) and John Shimkus (R-IL) have introduced the Visa Modernization Act, House Resolution 1543 (H.R. 1543), that updates the Visa Waiver Program (http://www.govtrack.us/congres...) by combining travel security enhancements with the flexibility to include countries that meet U.S. security and immigration standards. The bill is similar to Senator George Voinovich's amendment to S.4.that has already passed the Senate. It is now included in the so-called 9/11 Homeland Security bill. We urge you to contact your Representative and voice your support of H.R. 1543!!
Currently 27 countries participate in the program which allows citizens of select countries to enter the U.S. for tourism or business purposes for 90 days without a visa. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are excluded from participating in the program.
To include Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania in the program is of high priority to the governments of the three Baltic countries. The American Latvian Association (ALA) supports this goal; at its 2006 and 2007 annual membership meetings the delegates unanimously adopted resolutions urging members and member organizations to support legislation that includes Latvia in the visa waiver program.
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga raised the issue in her address to the U.S. Congress and more recently in her meeting this month with Vice President Dick Cheney. The Vice President stated that in April, the U.S. hosted an European Union and U.S. meeting where the visa waiver program was discussed and he thinks that the problem will be resolved soon. Ms. Vike-Freiberga emphasized that it would be highly improper and undesirable if the U.S. in its relations with she EU would have two categories of nations--one with visa waiver privileges and the other without. The President has discussed the visa problem with other U.S. government officials and politicians, as have other Latvian officials on their visits to the U.S.
While the expansion of the program is important to the people of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, it is also good for the U.S. It will benefit our national security, improve diplomatic relations with some of our closest allies, build strong alliances, and will significantly benefit the economy through tourism and business. H.R. 1543 improves and implements procedures that limit illegal entry and impedes travel by terrorist and transnational criminals, strengthens passenger screening procedures, improves ways to measure and monitor overstays, and creates common travel security standards and policies.
"Expanding the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is really a way of both increasing national security through improvements to this program and expanding it to our friends and allies who support our efforts in the war of terror," stated Representative John Shimkus.
The bill gives the Secretary of Homeland Security the discretion to waive the existing statutory requirement for a visa refusal rate of 3% or less, as long as certain security and immigration standards are met. The visa refusal rate is very subjective and there is no evidence a visa waver will increase overstays. The U.S. has so far insisted that the number of rejected visa applications must be 3 percent or lower to allow for visa-free relations.
Under the Visa Waiver Modification Act, security would be enhanced: standards for participation in the program would require the use of biometric passports; increased information sharing; stricter passenger screening before travel; passenger information exchanges; facilitate repatriation and overstays; substantially increase reporting of lost, stolen, and fraudulent travel documents; and ensure program countries would have to maintain the same security standards as the U.S. The program would not present an additional security risk to the U.S.
The problem the bill specifically seeks to rectify is that some of the most reliable allies of the U.S. in the war against terrorism, such as Latvia and the two other Baltic countries, find themselves on the wrong side of the U.S. visa regime.
THE SENATE BILL S. 4 AND THE HOUSE BILL H.R. 1543 HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION BILL THAT THE SENATE IS CURRENTLY DEBATING.
Before H.R. 1543 becomes law, it must go through four steps: 1) approved by the Committee of Homeland Security and Judiciary Committee; 2) voted on and approved by the whole House; 3) reconciled with S. 4 (already passed by the Senate) by the Conference Committee consisting of House and Senate members; and 4) signed by the President.
Currently the bill is before the Homeland Security and Judiciary Committees. They are expected to deliberate and vote on the bill after the Memorial Day recess. The Conference Committee will meet about middle of June.
WE DO NOT HAVE MUCH TIME LEFT. I URGE YOU TO CONTACT MEMBERS OF THE TWO HOUSE COMMITTEES AND YOUR REPRESENTATIVE, AND MEMBERS OF THE HOMELAND SECURITY AND JUDICIARY COMMITTEES TO ASK THEM TO SUPPORT H.R. 1543.
Because of security checks, it takes six weeks for a letter sent by postal mail to reach your congresspersons. Therefore, you should either fax your letter or call his/her office in Washington. Ask to speak to the person who handles the visa waiver legislation. E-mail should be your last choice. On average, a representative receives about 8,000 e-mails a months. Follow up your fax and e-mails with a phone call to the congressperson the next day to see if he/she received it. This will give you an opportunity to reinforce what you said in your letter.
If you do not know who your congressperson is, go to Thomas Guide to Congress, http://thomas.loc.gov or call the County Registrar. The same goes for the members of the Homeland Security Committee and Judiciary Committee; check the Thomas Guide for Congress.
THIS IS AN IMPORTANT ISSUE TO LATVIANS, ESTONIANS AND LITHUANIANS. PLEASE CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVE TODAY!
THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP. PLEASE PASS THIS MESSAGE ON TO OTHERS.
Support H.R. 1543: To Expand Visa Waiver Program