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Two think tank officials said on Monday that Congress should make it easier for more countries to join a program that lets their citizens travel to the United States without visas.
James Carafano, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and Dan Griswold, director of the center for trade policy studies at the Cato Institute, said lawmakers should ease restrictions for the visa-waiver program, which currently allows visitors from 27 countries to travel to and stay in the United States for up to 90 days.
Speaking on a panel organized by the Heritage Foundation, neither official said congressional action is likely this year. “The House seems to be in the mood to build walls rather than take them down,” Griswold said.
The visa-waiver program was created almost 20 years ago, and no country has been added to it since 1999. Stewart Baker, assistant secretary for policy at the Homeland Security Department, said the U.S. government has been especially skeptical of letting more countries join since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Griswold said the U.S. government should “be exploring prudent ways” to expand the program to “a large number” of other countries. He added that doing so would help the State Department save money and resources because it no longer would have to provide as many consular services in countries admitted into the program.
They also said Congress should give Homeland Security and the State Department the authority to enter into agreements that would make the program better. “This is about the future of the United States,” Carafano said. He said visa policy is “one weapon or one tool” the United States can use to engage with other countries.
(Posted on July 27, 2006)