Latvia completes homework for U.S. visa waiver

Latvia has finalized all requirements for joining the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, meaning Latvian citizens may be just a few months away from being able to enter the United States with little more than a passport.

The Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Sept. 18 that Latvian and U.S. officials have finalized language in an agreement on combatting serious crime. The agreement is the last step in the consultative process that should lead to Latvia being admitted into the visa waiver program.

“We have completed all our homework,” Pēteris Podvinskis, first secretary in the Latvian Embassy in Washington, D.C., told Latvians Online.

Latvian Ambassador Andrejs Pildegovičs, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Stewart Baker and Dept. of Justice representative Kenneth P. Mortenson initialed the agreement on Sept. 18. The agreement focuses on serious crime, especially terrorism, and calls on both sides to exchange information about criminals.

The agreement still needs to be signed by both sides, Podvinskis said. It is expected that Latvia’s Cabinet of Ministers will review the agreement on Sept. 23, after which a date will be set for the signing.

Latvia is the first of a number of candidate countries from Eastern Europe to complete the consultative process, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced.

The only remaining hurdle might be the current rate of visa refusal for Latvians seeking to travel to the United States. Under the Visa Waiver Program, a candidate country must have a refusal rate of no more than 10 percent. The last time the U.S. State Department reported data in 2007, Latvia’s refusal rate stood at 11.8 percent. New numbers are scheduled for release in October, and Podvinksis said Latvian officials are confident Latvia’s rate will be below 10 percent.

Latvian officials have worked for several years on earning the visa waiver. Currently just 27 countries, most of them in Western Europe, are part of the Visa Waiver Program.

Canada lifted its visa requirements for Latvian citizens last October.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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