Sec. Chertoff released a statement today discussing the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), following on remarks by Pres. Bush earlier in the day in Latvia and Estonia announcing his intentions to find a way to get them into the Visa Waiver Program. Chertoff’s statement describes a vision for a modified VWP that would look a lot like his desired end-state for advanced passenger notification, as outlined in the course of the US-EU negotiations over the PNR dispute earlier this year. His statement today notes:
We envision a secure travel authorization system that will allow us to receive data about travelers from countries before they get on the plane. Countries that are willing to assist the United States in doing effective checks on travelers could be put on track to enter the program soon. For countries seeking admission to the Visa Waiver Program, this would be an opportunity to set a standard that will be applied to the program generally.
This is a clever maneuver on the part of DHS, one that gives eastern European countries the incentive to accede to DHS’s desired rules on PNR’s, and by doing so create pressure on the European nations who are already in the VWP to bend in this direction. Whether this strategy works or not remains to be seen, and a lot will depend on the specifics of the proposal. But this could be a good way to broaden the VWP while at the same time addressing a key security vulnerabilities: the legal, thinly-screened entry into the United States of terrorists who are VWP-country citizens.