The Baltic Course
October 29, 2008
The visa waiver program between Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania and the United States will come into force starting from November 17 this year.
The date was confirmed at a press conference today by U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, who has arrived in Riga to congratulate Latvia on successfully completing the process of talks and preparation for joining the U.S. visa-free travel program, reports LETA.
As of November 17, Latvian citizens traveling to the U.S. for business of tourism purposes, who are holders of the new-type biometric passports and who will have registered with the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), will be able to travel to the U.S. without obtaining visa.
The maximum length of stay in the U.S. without obtaining visa will be 90 days, therefore also the date when a person leaves the U.S. will be registered.
Previously, U.S. Embassy in Latvia Consul Stephen Fram explained that tourism trips to the U.S. are meant as individual journeys, including visiting family members.
Business trips are meant as traveling to the U.S. with the purpose to meet business partners or to participate in entrepreneurs’ conferences.
In order to apply for ESTA permission, travelers have to register at the website “https://esta.MRB.dhs.gov/” and to fill in an on-line application. ESTA permission is an obligatory prerequisite before traveling to the U.S.. Also children, regardless of age, have to receive separate ESTA confirmation.
In order to fill in ESTA application, travelers have to provide their biometric data, name, surname, date of birth and passport details, as well as travel details, such as flight number and address of the destination in the U.S., if known.
The applicants will also have to reply to questions regarding contagious diseases they might have, about having been arrested or sentenced for specific crimes, as well as will have to inform about previous U.S. visa refusal or deportation from the country if they have experienced any.
It will be possible to apply for ESTA at any time, however, in order to facilitate the process of receiving ESTA permission, it is suggested to register at least 72 hours prior to departure from Latvia. In case the address of the applicant’s destination in the U.S. or his/her travel itinerary changes, the applicant will have the option to update this information at ESTA Website.
ESTA application is free of charge, it is sent and received electronically.
However, it had to be noted that receiving ESTA confirmation does not give hundred percent guarantee that the person will be allowed to enter the U.S.. In any case U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers decide on allowing travelers to pass through the national border checks.
If a person’s ESTA application is rejected, it is still possible to submit a visa application at the U.S. Embassy. Also the airlines, which effectuate flights to the U.S., will have information about travelers’ ESTA confirmation – if there is none, the traveler will not be permitted to board the airplane. When arriving in a U.S. airport, electronic confirmation will be checked once again and person’s fingerprints will be taken, after which the responsible officials will decide whether the person can be granted entry into the U.S.
Biometric passports will be required to travel to the U.S., but also Latvian passports issued between November 20, 2007 and September 15, 2008, which do not include passport holder’s fingerprints, will be valid. The old-type Latvian citizens’ passports, issued between July 1, 2002 and November 19, 2007, will be valid for traveling to the U.S. only together with a U.S. visa.
As reported, on October 17, George Bush announced rescinding visa requirements for citizens of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and South Korea.