Published on: Oct 05, 2020, Last Edited: Oct 05, 2020
With a significant number of Croatian nationals living abroad, joining the visa waiver program is high on Croatian citizens' wish list. The situation is quite complicated because Bosnia and Herzegovina, a completely different country, can also issue Croatian passports. Discussions about joining the Visa Waiver Program have been ongoing for 20 years, but now, it looks like the wait is almost over. While visiting Dubrovnik on 2nd October, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that he hoped the U.S. and Croatia would sign the visa waiver agreement in the coming months. However, he did not specify a date. This means that soon, Croatians are likely not to need a visa to enter the U.S.
Up to now, Croatia has been omitted from the list of countries included in the Visa Waiver Program, and Croatian citizens traveling to the United States must apply for a visa. There are specific criteria each country must fulfill before joining the VWP. Croatia has met both the political and security-related requirements. However, the country has still experienced a visa rejection rate of more than 3%, and it has been this factor that has up to now prevented them from joining the Visa Waiver Program.
The main reason why visa applications from Croatian citizens have been rejected is financial. The U.S. immigration authority fears that foreign nationals who do not have employment or a permanent address in the U.S. may use a trip on a tourist visa as an opportunity to become a job seeker.
However, Croatia's economic situation is changing. Visa-free travel is now seen as advantageous to businesses in both the U.S. and Croatia. As long as the visa rejection rate remains lower than 3%, Croatia will have met all the requirements to participate in the VWP.
Croatian citizens who wish to travel to the United States for business or tourism will be able to apply for an ESTA and travel visa-free.
Applying for an ESTA visa waiver offers several benefits. Applicants applying for a traditional visa must attend an interview at the United States embassy, as well as supplying documents and completing forms.
The embassy is in Zagreb, so attending an interview can be a lengthy and expensive trip for anyone living outside the capital. It can take several days to get an appointment and then wait for a decision. One of the VWP scheme's main advantages is that visa applicants complete their application online at a time and place convenient to themselves.
Travelers will now have to apply via the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) system. The whole process is completed online and replaces the cumbersome procedures required to apply for a U.S. visa.
Anyone who wishes to gain permanent residency, work, or study in the USA should still apply for the appropriate visa. ESTA only applies to those visiting the United States for tourism or business reasons.
An ESTA allows the holder to stay in the U.S. for up to 90 consecutive days for business or tourism purposes, or when in transit.
The ESTA allows for multiple entries. The holder can visit and leave the U.S. as often as required during the two years of validity, or until their passport expires, whichever is earlier.
Croatians applying for the ESTA must have a current passport and fulfill all the eligibility conditions. They must complete the online form and submit it for approval.
If it is approved, an applicant will usually receive the ESTA very quickly, often within a few minutes, and the process will rarely take longer than three days. Once approved, the ESTA is emailed to the applicant. The procedure is therefore much quicker than applying for a standard visa.
By 2021, Croatia looks set to join the group of 39 countries worldwide that are exempt from visas. Just three member states of the European Union will still require visas to travel to the U.S.: Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania.
Countries wishing to join the ESTA visa waiver program must fulfill two critical conditions:
U.S. citizens must also be able to travel to the country without a visa.
While it is not yet clear exactly when Croatia will be joining the VWP, the statement by Mike Pompeo means that Croatians are one step nearer to being able to travel to the United States with the ESTA.