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Congressman Shimkus addresses Visa Waiver issue in House floor speech

May 18, 2006

The Baltic Countries Entrance into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program

MR. SHIMKUS: Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak in opposition to the perceived exclusion of the countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from an amendment adopted by the Senate in their immigration bill yesterday.

While I approve of this amendment to allow for a two year trial expansion of the Visa Waiver Program, I disagree with the requirements that are placed upon countries that would want to partcipate. This program enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.

According to the language of Senate Amendment 4000, a country must provide ‘material support’ which means that “the current provision of the equivalent of, but not less than, a battalion (which consists of 300 to 1,000 military personnel) to Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom to provide training, logistical or tactical support, or a military presence.”

I feel that it is ineffective to place a number requirement on these smaller countries in the region. All of the Baltic countries have been steadfast and supportive allies of the United States since they gained their independence following the fall of Soviet Union and have continued to be supportive in the ongoing War on Terror.

While these countries are short of this amendment’s required troop number, it seems to me that the best way to evaluate a country’s eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program is to determine whether the country is a good ally and friend to the United States, not put a number on their commitment. All of these former Soviet satellite countries are continuing to actively work to implement the highest of technology within their border security, including biometric passports far ahead of some of their western European neighbors.

Currently, several of the 27 countries already in the Visa Waiver Program have committed zero troops to either mission. Why should such a requirement be placed on those countries that have already made a sacrifice when others are rewarded for their non-participation?

Furthermore, small countries like Lithuania with a population of 3.5 million, Latvia with 2.8 million or Estonia at 1.3 million clearly do not have as large a military as a country like Poland, which has over 38 million citizens, 30 million more than all 3 Baltic States combined. I feel that it is irresponsible to belittle their commitment and sacrifice to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom by not allowing them into the Visa Waiver Program within the specifics of the amendment.

Also, each of the Baltic States have troops participating in out of area NATO missions. One of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan is led by Lithuanian troops. Do these soldiers operating within the North American Treaty Organization not count towards their troop commitment in the language of this amendment? These are important questions that need to be addressed.

As Co-Chairman of the House Baltic Caucus I understand the concerns the Baltic countries have with this amendment and I urge the Conferees of the immigration bill to keep their concerns in mind as we work through the differences between both the Senate and House legislation.

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Octobr 17, 2008 - President Bush Discusses the Visa Waiver Program
Office of the Press Secretary/ White House News

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Please be seated, thank you. Welcome to the White House. I'm pleased to stand with the representatives of seven countries -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea -- that have met the requirements to be admitted to the United States Visa Waiver Program. Soon the citizens of these nations will be able to travel to the United States for business or tourism without a visa. I congratulate these close friends and allies on this achievement, and I thank you for joining us here.

I also thank Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of the Homeland -- Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff for working hard to make sure this day has finally arrived. Appreciate other members of the administration here and members of the Diplomatic Corps.

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