New agreement paves way for visa-free travel to US for Czech citizens
“The fulfillment of a dream for a generation of Czechs” is how Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek described the signing on Tuesday of a document that paves the way for Czechs to visit the United States without a visa. However, Czech citizens will have to provide detailed information to US officials prior to travelling, and Prague’s go-it-alone approach to visa negotiations has ruffled feathers in Brussels.
For his part, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, who signed the memorandum on behalf of the American government, called it a milestone. He said the US hoped to welcome the first Czechs without visas in October or November of this year.
Before Czechs travel to the United States they will have to file personal data with the US authorities via the internet as part of the Electronic Travel Authorization system. Czech travellers will also come under the US-Visit immigration and border system, a database (including fingerprints) of foreigners present in the United States at any time.
Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff praised the Czech Republic as a pioneer in becoming the first European Union state to sign up for the Americans’ new, stricter form of visa-free relations. However, the EU may well regard Prague as a little too pioneering in this respect.
Czech Interior Minister Langer rejected Brussels’ complaints on Tuesday, saying the Czech Republic had gone it alone after waiting a “bloody long time” for solidarity which never arrived.