Czech businesspeople to travel to the US with more freedom

Czechs need a visa to travel to the United States, despite many years of campaigning to be allowed to join the US visa waiver program. It is a sensitive issue for the Czech Republic, and often comes up when senior Czech officials meet their American counterparts. Now a new scheme will allow some Czech businesspeople to travel to the US with more freedom.

For years Czechs have grumbled about how complicated and time-consuming it is to get a visa to the United States. The US Embassy in Prague is now taking steps to facilitate the process for what they call "strong candidates" - people who want to travel to the States for study, business or training opportunities.Victoria Silverman is the US Embassy's Press Attaché:

"To aim towards a visa waiver - it will take a legislative change in Washington. I know that both the Czech government and US officials are working towards that goal. But the consular section and the American Embassy - and Ambassador Graber - are committed to making this as easy, as respectful and as transparent a process as possible, within the law that we are charged with implementing. We want to introduce - step by step - processes that essentially make it easy for people to gain the entrance documents that they need and want, particularly for study, for business, for training opportunities. This is not to say that they can travel visa free but the actual processing of the visa is rapid, transparent and as easy as possible to facilitate the travel between the two countries."

A pilot project facilitating the granting of visas for student study stays introduced at the beginning of this year was so successful that the US embassy is now introducing a similar project for Czech businesspeople who are members of the Czech-American Chamber of Commerce. In practice this means that such applicants do not need to register through the call centre but can do so online and will have a specific time reserved for them to come in. The granting of visas to such applicants should also be much quicker.

Another problem which burdens both applicants and staff at the call centre is the fact that many applicants come back to ask for a visa once again because their passport which already has a 10-year visa has expired. The US embassy has now suggested a possible solution. Victoria Silverman again:

"At Wednesday's bilateral working group meeting the American ambassador did invite further discussion within the Czech government to change something that we believe will assist Czech citizens. The suggestion envisages allowing Czechs to keep an expired passport - if they wish - and if it has a valid American visa in it they could travel to the United States with that old passport, valid visa and a new Czech passport, showing them both to the immigration officials and gaining entry to the United States. This is significant because what we are seeing is that 19 to 20 percent of our applicants already have a ten-year visa. But because when they go to apply for a new passport they have to surrender their old passport they are going through the expense again and of course we are using staff time to process something again for them. So we want to make it easier."

Whether this suggestion is implemented depends on the Czech authorities, but the embassy's project facilitating travel to the United States for businesspeople will be launched on January 1st of 2007.