Argentina Dropped from Non-Visa Travel Program

By: Cheryl W. Thopmson
The Washington post, February 21, 2002


The Justice Department announced yesterday that it would end Argentina's six-year participation in a program that allows travel to the United States without a visa, the first time a nation has been removed from the program.

Effective today, Argentine nationals who have been allowed to visit the United States for as long as 90 days without visas will have to obtain one before stepping on American soil.

Residents of 28 countries, including France, Italy and Japan, may still travel here without obtaining visas.

The emergency move was prompted by Argentina's economic crisis, which caused Justice and State Department officials to fear that Argentines would use the visa waiver program to come to the United States and stay illegally beyond the 90-day limit. The Immigration and Naturalization Service already has noted an increase in the number of Argentine nationals trying to do that, the Justice Department said in a statement.

The program allows residents of some countries to visit here for up to 90 days without first obtaining visas abroad.

Argentine nationals who were legally in the United States under the program before the termination date may stay until the expiration of their admission.

"This is not an unfriendly gesture," said Argentine Ambassador Diego Guelar. "We understand it. But it's not going to be the same for the tourists, who find it easier to travel without a visa."

Guelar predicted that the new rule will not reduce overall travel from Argentina to the United States. "The regular flow of tourists will keep coming," he said. "Now, they'll have to fill out papers, have to wait. It will be uncomfortable bureaucratic procedures."

Long lines of Argentines formed outside the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires yesterday to seek permission to travel to the United States, the Associated Press reported.

The Bush administration began a review of the overall visa waiver program last year because of concerns about the entry of illegal immigrants. Argentina and five other countries -- Slovenia, Portugal, Italy, Uruguay and Belgium -- were the first to be reviewed.

Argentina's removal was not based on the review but rather on provisions of the visa waiver law that allow the administration to react in emergency situations, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. The removal isn't permanent and Argentina could participate again if it met the provisions of the program.

"Removal of the program is not intended to be punitive against them [Argentines] or against Argentina," Boucher said, adding that 13 positions are being added to the Buenos Aires Consular Section to "take care of the needs of Argentines to travel to the United States."

Paul Ruden, a senior vice president for the American Society of Travel Agents, said that although his group favors removing barriers to travel, it supports the government's decision.

"The government believes there are higher interests served by requiring more process, and I don't think we're in a position to judge that in the current context" of the Sept. 11 attacks, Ruden said. "The government's under a lot of pressure to not let people overstay."

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