Statement by U.S. Ambassador Michael Hammer Regarding the Visa Waiver Program in Chile

I would like ensure that everyone understands the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in Chile and therefore want to take this opportunity to clarify some issues.  First, and most importantly, Chile is and remains a participant in the VWP — there have been no changes and it has worked supremely well this first month.  Since the VWP has been in effect, the U.S. government has smoothly facilitated the entrance of more than 4,500 Chilean nationals into the United States, it has done so efficiently, securely, more conveniently and at lesser cost to the traveler.

Second, in order to participate in the Visa Waiver Program, U.S. law requires that participants meet a series of requirements.  The standard requirements include a nonimmigrant visa refusal rate below three percent, offering reciprocal visa-free travel for U.S. citizens for business or tourist visits of up to 90 days, and issuing International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) compliant “e-passports.”  Part of the VWP requirements also includes the sharing information to ensure the security of both the United States and the participant country.  Such information agreements include information regarding lost and stolen passports, information regarding whether citizens and nationals of that country traveling to the United States represent a threat to the security or welfare of the United States or its citizens, and cooperation on repatriation matters.

These standard information sharing requirements have been signed by VWP participant countries, including Chile.  This requirement has been in place since 2007 and will shortly be completed by all 38 countries participating.  It is important that people know that the sharing of information is voluntary between the United States and Chile and based on the laws of the respective nation.  The agreement ensures that the United States can share information with Chile for the use of Chilean law enforcement and allows Chile to reciprocate.  Under this agreement, the sharing of information is safeguarded and each transaction is noted and recorded by each side to enhance control measures.

Every two years the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reviews VWP participants to assess compliance with program requirements.  As part of the assessment, DHS will review the overstay rate and other immigration data, as well as compliance with the program’s security and information sharing requirements.  In order to maintain membership in the VWP, all participants, including Chile, need to ensure they continue to implement and uphold security and information sharing agreements and their citizens must continue to demonstrate a low rate of overstay and not engage in activities not permitted under visitor [B] visa tourism and business travel.

In FY 2013, approximately 220,000 Chileans traveled to the U.S. for tourism or business purposes on visitor [B] visas.  Since Chile’s designation to the VWP earlier this year, more than 13,500 Chileans have applied for ESTA authorization to travel to the United States under the program and approximately 98 percent of those requests have been approved.  Chile’s designation to the Visa Waiver Program in February 2014 recognizes the importance of tourism to both our countries and our shared interest in making travel secure, as we continue to expand our economic and cultural ties.  The VWP is a reflection of the extremely positive and close relationship our two nations and peoples enjoy.