As Croatia edges closers to being accepted into the US visa waiver program, lawmakers in the Baltic state are set to debate a final bill on ratifying an agreement with the US concerning the deployment of air marshals.
According to a report published by Croatia Week, the agreement ‘defines the subject matter and area of application, relevant bodies to implement the agreement, operational procedures, general responsibility of both the country of departure and the country of arrival, training and technical support, as well as the issue of costs and dispute resolution.’
Additionally, the agreement defines the term ‘air marshal’, and who is responsible for the security of planes, passengers and crew, plus who is in charge of tackling terrorism and other security threats.
The agreement reportedly contains provisions aimed at strengthening cooperation between Croatia and the US to advance passenger safety in air traffic or in combined air services, while ensuring a framework for the deployment of air marshals.
US visa waiver program pre-condition
Signing of the agreement is one of the legal pre-conditions that will allow Croatia to join the US visa waiver program, which will enable the Baltic state’s citizens to travel to America, visa-free. Acceptance into the scheme has been one of Croatia’s foreign policy priorities.
In September, Workpermit.com reported that Croatia was ‘one step away’ from being accepted into the US visa waiver scheme. The Croatian Foreign Ministry had been urging civil servants to apply for US visas in order to reach a minimum number of visas that must be reached in order to be eligible for the visa waiver program.
During a visit to Dubrovnik, Croatia in October, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said: “I hope the US and Croatia will sign the visa waiver agreement in the coming months.”
Qualifying for the visa scheme
Eligibility for the US visa waiver scheme is subject to a nation having a visa rejection of less than 3%, while meeting certain political and security requirements. However, while Croatia has met many of the security and political requirements, the Baltic state still had a visa rejection rate above 3%.
The rejection rate has been a major barrier to Croatia’s acceptance into the US visa waiver scheme. It’s understood that Croatia’s high rejection rate is based on financial reasons.
It’s been widely reported that, in the past, US immigration authorities had concerns over many Croatian nationals not having employment or a permanent address in the US, sparking fears that many would try to secure a US tourist visa in an effort to find a job in America.
However, the situation is seemingly changing. Visa free travel between the two countries is now seen as advantageous to businesses in the US and Croatia.
Croatia is now expected to join a 39-strong list of countries, whose citizens can travel to the US visa-free, by early 2021. Upon Croatia joining the scheme, just three European Union member states will still be excluded, including: Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania.
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