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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 17, 2008
President Bush Discusses the Visa Waiver Program
11:13 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Please be seated, thank you.
Welcome to the White House. I'm pleased to stand with the representatives
of seven countries -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania,
Slovakia, and South Korea -- that have met the requirements to be admitted
to the United States Visa Waiver Program. Soon the citizens of these nations
will be able to travel to the United States for business or tourism without
a visa. I congratulate these close friends and allies on this achievement,
and I thank you for joining us here.
I also thank Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of the
Homeland -- Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff for working
hard to make sure this day has finally arrived. Appreciate other members
of the administration here and members of the Diplomatic Corps.
All of the nations represented here today allow American citizens to travel
to their countries visa-free. The United States has not accorded their
citizens the same privilege. For years the leaders of these nations have
explained to me how frustrating it is for their citizens to wait in lines
and pay visa fees to take a vacation or make a business trip or visit
their families here in the United States. These close friends of America
told me that it was unfair that their people had to jump through bureaucratic
hoops that other allies can walk around.
I told them I agree with them. I also told them that in the world after
September 11th, we could only expand travel opportunities if we increased
security measures at the same time. So nearly two years ago, my administration
asked Congress to modernize our Visa Waiver Program in a way that accomplished
both of these goals. I appreciate the bipartisan support this initiative
has received on Capitol Hill. My administration worked with Congress to
pass a law allowing us to admit new countries to the Visa Waiver Program.
These countries agree to share information about threats to our people.
They also agree that their citizens use a new system that requires travelers
to register online ahead of their visits to the United States. These citizens
will travel to the United States only if they have tamper-proof biometric
passports. I'm grateful to the dedicated officers from the United
States and our allies who worked hard to complete the agreements to meet
these new requirements.
Because of this good work, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff
has notified our Congress that the administration intends to use its new
authority to admit seven countries into the Visa Waiver Program. In about
a month, we will be proud to extend to citizens of these seven countries
the privilege of visa-free travel.
Today's announcement signifies a new chapter in the relationship between
the United States and your nations. It is a testament to the strong bonds
of friendship that unite our people. This is a significant achievement,
but it is only the start. A number of America's other close friends
are participating in a process called the "visa waiver road map"
that is helping them qualify for the Visa Waiver Program. I welcome the
ambassadors from these "road map" countries -- Bulgaria, Cyprus,
Greece, Malta, Poland, and Romania. We thank you for coming today. We
thank you for your friendship. And we look forward to the day when your
countries join the Visa Waiver Program.
I believe the best foreign policy for America is one that lets people
from other countries get to know this country firsthand. Throughout our
history, some of the strongest advocates of freedom have been those who
came to America and saw the blessings of liberty with their own eyes.
Extending this opportunity to some of our closest allies deepens our friendship
and makes all our countries safer. I'm grateful to all the countries
here for seeking to strengthen the ties between our citizens. I look forward
to even stronger partnerships in the years ahead.