Legislation that would ease visa requirements for Latvian citizens traveling to the United States is again under consideration in Congress and the American Latvian Association is asking its members to write to key senators and representatives urging its adoption.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have passed bills addressing domestic security, but only the Senate version would expand the Visa Waiver Program to include Latvia. The bills are now headed to a conference committee where legislators will hammer out differences between the two.
“This is our last chance to get the revised VWP established as law,” Valdis Pavlovskis, the ALA director for public affairs, wrote in an e-mailed “Call to Action” sent July 19 to Latvian-Americans.
The Senate bill does not specifically mention Latvia, but would extend the Visa Waiver Program to “foreign countries that are allies in the war on terrorism.” Latvia is considered such in part because it has troops stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, although almost all troops in the latter were pulled out in June. Only three Latvian soldiers remain stationed in Iraq, while about 80 serve in Afghanistan. Three men have been killed in Iraq since 2003, when Latvian soldiers first began deployment there.
The Senate’s version of the bill—the Improving America’s Security Act of 2007, or Senate Bill S.4—and the House version—Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007, or H.R. 1—are expected to go before the conference committee in the coming week, Pavlovskis said.
Under the Senate bill, admission to the Visa Waiver Program would not be automatic. The Secretary of Homeland Security would still have to approve a country’s application.
Latvian officials have been working for several years to convince the United States to grant visa-free entry to its citizens. U.S. citizens entering Latvia may do so without a visa and stay up to 90 days.
A total of 27 countries now participate in the Visa Waiver Program, according to the U.S. Department of State.
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