House Baltic Caucus Co-Chairmen Join Seven Embassies to Stand Up for Visa Freedom

contact: Inga Lukaviciute (tel. 301-340-1954)

September 26, 2006

photo by Inga Lukaviciute

Washington, DC (JBANC) --- Congressmen John Shimkus and Dennis Kucinich, co-chairs of the seventy-member strong House Baltic Caucus, joined diplomats from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, to hold a September 26 press conference on the Visa Waiver issue. The briefing took place outside the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Representatives Shimkus (R-IL) and Kucinich (D-OH) announced plans to send a joint letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in support of those new European Union and NATO member countries wishing to join the visa waiver program (VWP), which allows visa-free travel to the United States. The letter is to be signed by both congressmen and circulated among members of Congress.

Rep. Shimkus underscored sentiments that those countries have done what was asked of them in preparation for the visa waiver system, and stressing that policies for all U.S. allies should be fair.

"We do not represent any security problem, or immigration problem. We should unite allies and divide enemies," said Petr Kolar, Czech Ambassador to the United States.

Ambassador Kolar further pointed out that American investment is growing in these countries and if U.S. businessman trust them to conduct business there, Americans should trust them in the U.S. too. He added that

"If our countries are included in visa waiver program, it is a win-win situation for the U.S. and us."

Rep. Kucinich stressed that "this is not an immigration issue, but a travel issue among friends."

"We are not talking about people trying to sneak [across] borders here. We are talking about friends and allies," Kucinich said. He also noted that many members of Congress have constituents from the countries concerned about this issue.

Rep. Shimkus stressed the progress that these countries have made. He admitted that the problem was that the visa waiver issue is tied to the immigration debate. Rep. Kucinich joined by saying that it is important to make sure people understand that this is not an immigration but a travel issue.

Kornelija Jurgaitiene, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Lithuanian Embassy underscored the sentiment that since Lithuania is a friend and ally of the U.S. and has troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, it deserves a reciprocal 90-day visitors visa waiver. Lithuania, for example, granted a visa waiver to U.S. already in 1994.

Other ambassadors at the press conference were Janusz Reiter (Poland), Jüri Luik (Estonia), Maris Riekstins (Latvia), Andras Simonyi (Hungary), and Ratislav Kacer (Slovakia).

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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