Latvia may move closer to visa-free U.S. travel

Estonia is expected to sign a memorandum of understandng March 12 to allow its citizens visa-free travel to the United States and, according to the LETA news service, so will Latvia.

The news service reported March 7 that Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, in a joint press conference in Tallinn with visiting Latvian Prime Minster Ivars Godmanis, told journalists both nations would soon sign memoranda with the United States.

However, a press release from the Estonian government mentions only that Estonia will sign. No official mention of a memorandum signing has been made by the Latvian government.

A memorandum between the United States and Latvia is still being worked on, LETA reported, quoting Latvian Foreign Minister Māris Riekstiņš. The memorandum would be just the first step toward achieving visa-free travel for Latvian citizens.

A spokesperson for the Latvian Foreign Ministry, in an e-mail to Latvians Online, confirmed March 10 that the memorandum is still being written and could be signed March 12.

The Baltic states all allow U.S. citizens to enter without visas. They have been working toward reciprocal visa-free travel with the United States for several years.

One impediment has been the rate of refusal for Baltic citizens wanting to visit the United States. In August, with passage by Congress of the Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007, the acceptable rate was changed from 3 percent to 10 percent. That opened the door to several countries, including Estonia, which in 2007 had a refusal rate of 7.1 percent. Latvia’s refusal rate, however, stood at 11.8 percent, according to U.S. State Department data.

The American Latvian Association has been pushing for U.S. lawmakers to approve other legislation that would take into account whether a country is an ally in the war on terrorism.

Canada lifted visa requirements for Latvian travelers in 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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