A decision on Croatia’s entry into the US Visa Waiver Program should be made by the end of the US fiscal year, while Croatian citizens could travel to the US without visas by the end of this year, the Ministry of the Interior reported on Index.hr.
Interior Minister Davor Božinović met with US representatives on an evaluation visit to Croatia from September 12 to 18 to enter the US Visa Waiver Program.
Božinović pointed out that this evaluation visit, despite the coronavirus pandemic, is a critical moment in Croatia’s accession to the Visa Waiver Program and expressed satisfaction with the intensive cooperation over the past years, which significantly helped Croatia reach this advanced stage of the accession process.
The Croatian government is committed to meeting all political, legal, and security preconditions for accession. These preconditions, among other things, included reducing the rate of rejected visa applications to a minimum and creating conditions for better cooperation in law enforcement between the two countries, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
They add that the intensification of interstate and interdepartmental cooperation has led to the fact that in May 2019, Croatia submitted answers on 176 pages. After verifying the submitted answers, which indisputably show significant progress of Croatia in meeting the security requirements, significant efforts have been made to lower the level of rejected visa applications.
The rate of rejected visa applications was lowered below three percent in 2020, which the State Department officially confirmed on February 16, 2021. Meeting that condition has been a major challenge for years.
In the process of joining the Visa Waiver Program, several security requirements also had to be met, with the Department of the Interior working intensively with the US Department of Homeland Security for the past four years.
Most of the security conditions were related to strengthening the capacity and providing technical conditions for collecting and analyzing biometric data of passengers entering Croatia, security of travel documents, strengthening the capacity to fight terrorism, exchanging information on foreign terrorist fighters, and a range of other relevant security information with the relevant U.S. services, primarily those in the Department of Homeland Security, and then the FBI, the Terrorist Surveillance Center, and the DEA.
Minister Božinović reminded that during this process, Croatia and the USA concluded important international agreements and arrangements aimed at improving security and data exchange between the two countries while at the same time working on building the highest security standards.
A pre-evaluation visit by a delegation from the Ministry of Homeland Security to Croatia was held earlier this year, from June 14 to 18. A draft report submitted to the State Department by the US Department of Homeland Security following a visit was followed by a formal invitation from US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to include Croatia in the program, one of the last steps before a formal visa waiver decision.
Minister Božinović emphasized that the Government of the Republic of Croatia was also working on Croatia’s accession to Schengen and that all preconditions had been met in that field.
“Croatia is determined not only to meet all the requirements for access to the visa waiver program but also to maintain compliance with these requirements. This determination stems from our deep conviction that this compliance will further improve cooperation between Croatian and US authorities and increase the security of our citizens,” said Božinović.
As part of the evaluation, from September 12 to 18, the US delegation visited, among others, the Port of Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik Airport, the Karasovići and Bregana border crossings, and the Ježevo Reception Center for Foreigners.
Following this week’s evaluation visit, the US Department of Homeland Security will submit to the State Department a final report on meeting all the necessary conditions and a proposal for a final decision on Croatia’s accession to the US Visa Waiver Program.
The members of the American delegation clearly underlined that due to the seen readiness and equipment of the Croatian police, their earlier optimism for fulfilling the conditions turned into satisfaction, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
Accordingly, the US expects that the decision on Croatia’s entry into the US Visa Waiver Program should be made by the end of the US fiscal year, more precisely by September 30, 2021, while Croatian citizens could travel visa-free to the US by the end of this year.
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