SEN. VOINOVICH INTRODUCES VISA WAIVER LEGISLATION
FOR NATIONS COOPERATING WITH WAR ON TERROR
Contact: Chris Paulitz or Garrette Silverman,
Thursday, December 7, 2006
. – U.S. Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH),
a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and the Homeland Security
and Governmental Affairs Committee, today introduced legislation that
would extend visa-free travel privileges to our allies in the Global War on Terror.
The Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act of 2006 would improve
cooperation with key allies while strengthening U.S. national security
interests and promoting U.S. economic competitiveness. Sen. Richard Lugar
(R-IN), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Daniel Akaka
(D-HI), Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) are
original co-sponsors of the bill.
“There are many countries helping us thwart terrorism around the world and
they should be rewarded for their continued cooperation,” Sen. Voinovich
said. “This legislation will improve both our national security and economic
interests while helping to solidify these relationships and improve good
will toward the for years to come. I will work closely with
the administration and my colleagues in the Senate as we move forward to
show our allies that we appreciate their help in this historic fight.”
Sen. Voinovich’s legislation authorizes the Department of Homeland Security,
in consultation with the Department of State, to expand the Visa Waiver
Program (VWP) to countries that support the and are prepared
to do everything in their power to help keep terrorists from crossing our borders.
“I believe this bill effectively demonstrates Congressional concern yet does
not seek to dictate to the Administration which of our strategic partners
should be included in the program,” Sen. Lugar said. “Such compromises are
the hallmark of good legislation, and I look forward to seeing this bill
signed into law.”
Sen. Akaka said: “This bill will enable the to validate its
affinity with those nations that share America’s hopes for a better and
peaceful future while contributing to our mutual economic well being.”
“I have fought for years to expand the VWP so our allies can visit family
and conduct business in the without standing in line to get a
visa,” said Sen. Mikulski. “We know that our borders will be no less secure
because of these visitors. But we know that our alliance will be more secure
because of this legislation.”
Sen. Voinovich believes that expanding the VWP will bring clear benefits for
our immediate and long-term national security interests. The countries would
be eligible to participate in the program only after the executive branch
certifies that they do not pose a security or law enforcement threat to the
All participants would be required to implement enhanced travel security
requirements, negotiate new agreements on counterterrorism cooperation and
critical information- sharing and further demonstrate their close cooperation
with the in the Global War on Terror. The legislation would
also require the U.S. government to report to Congress on its plans for
further enhancing security standards for existing VWP countries.
“In addition to promoting U.S. national security interests, my bill will
increase business ties and tourism, benefiting our economy and
competitiveness for years to come,” Sen. Voinovich said. “This is not only a
sign of gratitude but a smart move that will advance America’s strategic interests.”
The VWP was established in 1986 to improve relations with U.S. allies and
benefit the U.S. economy. The program permitted nationals from selected
countries to enter the for tourism or business without a visa
for up to 90 days. Currently, 27 countries participate in the program.
Although numerous countries have expressed a desire to participate in the
VWP, and a willingness to cooperate with the necessary security
requirements, no new countries have been admitted since 1999. President Bush
recently called on Congress to expand the VWP to deserving nations, and has
previously identified 13 “Road Map” countries as potential candidates for
future participation. These include , , ,
, , , , , , , ,
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Senator Voinovich Floor Remarks for Introduction of
The Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act of 2006
Mr. President, I rise to introduce The Secure Travel and
Counterterrorism Partnership Act of 2006, along with my good friends
Senators Akaka, Lugar, Mikulski, and Santorum.
This legislation would expand the U.S. Visa Waiver Program in a way that
would increase cooperation with key allies in the War on Terror while
strengthening U.S. national security.
The bill provides a way for us to expand and improve the Visa Waiver System
so that Americans are safer and our nation is more prosperous for years to come.
This legislation comes at a particularly important time in our nation’s
history. We are currently facing multiple foreign policy challenges in the
post-9/11 world. We need the cooperation of several allies to combat
transnational threats. As such, we are asking our friends and allies to
contribute more of their troops and resources to , , and
other conflicts in the world, so that we can be successful. This legislation
will help us to solidify these relationships and increase goodwill toward
the U.S. for years to come, while also enhancing travel security and safety
My legislation would authorize the Department of Homeland Security, in
consultation with the Department of State, to expand the Visa Waiver Program
to countries that are true friends of America and are prepared to do more to
help us keep terrorists and criminals out of our borders.
For those that do not know about the Visa Waiver Program, it was established
in 1986 to improve relations with U.S. allies and strengthen the U.S.
economy. The program permitted nationals from the selected countries to
enter the without a visa for up to 90 days for tourism or business.
Currently, 27 countries participate in the program, including the .
But there are a number of new allies who would also like to
participate in the Visa Waiver Program and are willing to meet strict
security requirements and cooperate on counterterrorism initiatives.
Many of these countries were former members of the . They were
victims of Soviet oppression for years, against their will, and despite
their desire for freedom.
Today, many of these countries have boots on the ground in and
and want to help us stop the terrorists and promote democracy.
These countries are naturally suited to help other countries as they fight
for freedom and democracy. Many of these countries are also actively engaged
in , helping to promote democracy there. Likewise, they have a unique
understanding of the struggle for democracy that is taking place in and
Despite their commitments to the principles of freedom and democracy, these
countries are still paying a price that other countries in the West do not
pay. Citizens of , the , or can travel easily to the U.S.,
while citizens of , , and are given second-class
I would like to share a few examples to put a human face on this problem.
I recently learned of a story involving a young Czech officer who served in
with Americans. This soldier wanted to come to America to visit the
American friends he made during combat operations. But his application for a
visa was refused. Why? Because his passport included a visit to , the
very place he served with American soldiers.
Another example involves young students from places like , , or
. These young people have a positive view of America and hope to
visit our country. However, their expensive visa applications are frequently
rejected, dampening their spirits and tainting their image of America. And
this view is spreading every day.
By limiting travel to the U.S., we are risking a loss of influence with the
future leaders of our closest allies.
I have been working for the last several months to develop a piece of
legislation that will address these challenges, without sacrificing U.S.
security. I was pleased when I heard President Bush announce his intention
to focus on this issue in the coming year. On the margins of the NATO Summit
in , he called on Congress to expand the Visa Waiver Program so that we
can reward our closest allies for their help and friendship.
I agree with the President – but I want to clarify that this is not simply a
reward for these countries. The true reward is the knowledge that we are
free and democratic countries working together to advance international
security. But the foremost goal of this legislation is to create mutually
beneficial partnerships with clear national security advantages for the
By continuing on the current path, we risk marginalizing some of our closest
allies in the war on terror and losing the hearts and minds of their future
leaders and citizens. We have an opportunity to change direction in a way
that will promote our own national security interests and improve control of
our borders. The Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act can
achieve all of these objectives.
What would this bill do?
The legislation would expand visa-free travel privileges for up to five new
countries, for a probationary period of three years.
In order for a country to participate in the plan, the executive branch
would first need to certify that the country is cooperative on
counterterrorism and does not pose a security or law enforcement threat to
the . However, the country would also be required to take a
number of new steps to enhance our common security.
Prior to participation, the countries would be required to conclude new
agreements with the to further strengthen cooperation on
counterterrorism and improve information- sharing about critical security issues.
Some might say -- if these countries are key allies, aren’t they cooperating
with us already? The answer is yes. They are very cooperative. But in today’
s heightened security environment, there is more that each country can do,
such as sharing additional sensitive information that can help our
intelligence community and law enforcement agencies investigate threats and
combat terrorist activity. By negotiating new agreements on counterterrorism
and information- sharing to permit participation in the Visa Waiver Program,
we can reduce threats to the .
Additionally, the legislation would require the countries to enact a number
of significant security measures, which would limit illegal entry and
unlawful presence in their countries and impede travel by terrorists and
transnational criminals. Security standards required for participation in
the program would include electronic passports with biometric information,
as well as prompt reporting of lost, stolen, or fraudulent travel documents
to the U.S. and Interpol.
These new requirements would help make the U.S. more secure. Expanding the
number of participating countries would increase the number of states
meeting common security standards. This would allow the to
shift consular resources used to issue visas to other missions with more
critical security needs.
If at any time, participant countries are not complying with these
requirements, their probationary status in the program could be revoked.
Likewise, if the program is determined to be successful, it could be
expanded to include additional countries.
The last part of the legislation is aimed at enhancing security requirements
for countries who are currently participating in the Visa Waiver Program. In
this post 9/11 world, the U.S. Government has already required additional
security measures of participating visa waiver countries, such as
machine-readable passports with biometric information.
But we can and must do more.
I was very pleased that last week, Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff
recommended several new measures to further enhance the efficiency and
security of the Visa Waiver Program. His recommendations included an
electronic travel authorization system, additional passenger information
exchanges, common standards for airport security and baggage screening,
cooperation in the air marshal program, and home country assistance in
repatriation for any traveler who overstays the terms of their visa or
violates U.S. law.
As the Administration works to develop the details of these recommendations,
my legislation would require that within one year, the executive branch
provide a report to Congress on its plans for Visa Waiver Program
In addition to the benefits to foreign relations and homeland security, this
bill would do a great deal to advance U.S. competitiveness. Visa-free travel
to the has been proven to significantly boost tourism and
business, as well as airline revenues, and would generate substantial
economic benefits to the well into the future. Additionally,
it would improve attitudes toward the throughout the world,
which would benefit the U.S. economy and national security for generations
As a member of both the Foreign Relations and the Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs Committees, I believe that we have a real opportunity
to improve our foreign relations, our homeland defense, and the visa waiver
Therefore, I call on my colleagues in the Senate and the House to examine
this legislation with a serious eye, refraining from the knee-jerk reaction
that an expanded program is bad for national security. When you look at the
facts involved and the opportunities ahead, you can see that we have a
chance to improve security cooperation and strengthen the bonds of
friendship with our allies in the war on terror.
I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Congress and the
President to move this legislation forward.