The Lehrman Auditorium at the Heritage Foundation was packed on July 24th. They were gathered to hear a panel discuss the issue of the Visa Waiver Policy. The panel consisted of Stewart Baker who serves as the Assistant Secretary of Policy at the Department of Homeland Security, Dan Griswold of the Cato Institute and Michael McCarry, Executive Director of Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange. James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation moderated the discussion.
“Visa policy is essential for our government to look at,” Dr. Carafano stated at the start of the discussion.
Assistant Secretary Baker explained the Visa Waiver Program to the audience. Under the Visa Waiver Program, a person is granted a ninety-day visit in America for business or vacation, and does not have to go through an interview process nor have to pay the visa fee. Also, their biometrics, photo and fingerprints, are taken upon arrival instead of before leaving their original point of departure. The catch of the situation is that those eligible for the program are only in twenty-seven countries.
To be an eligible country, there are a few requirements necessary. First, the country must have “reciprocal visa-free travel” for American citizens. Second, the country must have a “non-immigrant refusal rate of less than 3%.” The countries must also “report all lost or stolen passports to the United States.” All the countries must also issue “biometric passports as of October 26, 2005.” Finally, the countries must meet “Law enforcement and national security interests of the United States.” The panelists agreed that what causes most countries to have difficulty with meeting the standards is the less than 3% refusal rate.
The first countries to participate in the program were the United Kingdom and Japan in 1988. The last countries to join were Portugal and Singapore, both in 1999. Due to the attacks on September 11, 2001, no country has been granted entrance into the program since that time, as a result of security concerns.
“I think the Visa Waiver Program has been a success,” Dan Griswold remarked. Mr. Griswold argued that it would be “a huge mistake” to get rid of the program. He cited a report issued by the Government Accountability Office that estimated America would have $28 billion in lost revenue if the program was ever cut. Mr. Griswold told the audience that he believes “We are making a Type I error.” By this he means we are rejecting countries that could help us in the long run, because we are too afraid of the possible consequences. Mr. Griswold believes that South Korea should be a part of the Visa Program, even going as far as to say that he would be willing to risk letting in the “angry radical rice farmers,” so that South Koreans could travel visa-free in America.
Still, Mr. Griswold admits that he is “cautiously pessimistic” when it comes to the question of whether or not Congress will work to resolve the problems with the Visa Waiver Program.
“We need to look at visa policy comprehensively,” Mr. McCarry told the audience.
Mr. McCarry discussed the Visa Exchange Program, which brings about 200,000 foreign students to America annually, at “no cost to the United States government.” He noted that around 20,000 Polish students come to America for summer vacation and jobs. Recent government laws are trying to “inhibit” the exchange.
Mr. Carafano praised Assistant Secretary Baker for his effort at fixing the growing problem with the current Visa Waiver Program. He commented about the number of youth in attendance, noting that “this is a young people’s issue.” He explained that many Americans don’t truly grasp the importance of the Visa Waiver Policy, because “most Americans don’t own a passport,” and those that do rarely go to countries that require visas.
Matthew Murphy is an intern at Accuracy in Academia.