US will lift visas for Czechs on November 17

Prime Minster Mirek Topolánek with US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, photo: CTK

On November 17, Czech citizens will be able to travel to the United States without visas for the first time ever. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff announced in Prague on Monday that the Czech Republic, along with several other central and eastern European countries, has been included in the US Visa Waiver Program.

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek (left) with US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, photo: CTK
For the first time in history, Czechs will be able to travel to the United States without visas on November 17 this year. When Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff announced the dropping of the visa requirement in Prague on Monday, they agreed this was a historic moment in the relations of the two countries. Prime Minister Topolánek said this was a great day for himself and many people of his generation, as what ha called the last remnant of the Cold War was being removed. For his party, Secretary Chertoff hinted that it was no coincidence the lifting of the visas was announced today.

“We were able to complete all the necessary legal steps in order to be able to announce the initiation of this programme for the Czech Republic on the eve of a great day, the 90th anniversary of [the foundation of] Czechoslovakia. And I’m delighted to say that the first visa-free travel will occur on November 17 of this year, which of course is another great day in the history of the Czech Republic.”

Interior Minister Ivan Langer (left) and US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, photo: CTK
For the Czech Republic to be included in the visa-waiver programme, the Czech authorities will have to closely cooperate with the Americans on security issues, and share information about potential terrorist threats. Czech nationals travelling to the United States without visas will have to make sure the meet two conditions: they will have to have so-called e-passports, that is passports with biometric data. And travellers will also have – in advance – to submit information to the US government online, via a system known as the Electronic System of Travel Authorization, or ESTA. It will however still be US immigration officers who have the last say on whether a particular person is admitted to the United States or not. The new programme will bring no changes for Czech citizens who already have US visas.

The US Secretary of Homeland Security also said the first Czechs without visas might even get a special welcome.

“Those who do those two things will be enjoying their first visa-free travel from the Czech Republic to the United States on November 17, and I look forward to greeting the first new travellers, if possible, even myself, on that Monday.”