The State Department has relaxed restrictions for diplomats across the globe, as a growing number of applicants take advantage of the flexible visa programs offered by U.S. consulates and embassies.
The official visa process allows stateside diplomats to access the visa waiver program (VWP) and allow them to use it to travel on most international flights, which is easier to do with so many international airports, rather than to enter a country with a visa. The program allows Americans to visit every European country, as well as Singapore, South Korea, and most of the Asian region, for short stays.
Of the 1.9 million applications for the VWP made during the fiscal year which ended in September, officials said “more than 3,000 [applicants] crossed state lines during that time frame to conduct activities in a range of other countries.”
“While the number of VWP travelers was relatively flat over the last two years, they were triple the number of applicants received during fiscal year 2011,” State Department officials said.
The VWP programs has been a powerful tool for State Department leaders who are trying to bring many of the most disconnected parts of the globe closer to home.
The waiver programs have the lowest level of scrutiny of visa applications, and a number of studies have shown how they have helped boost tourism and trade between the U.S. and many of the countries.
For instance, the State Department has reportedly sponsored more than $40 million in new partnership agreements during the last six years.
The relaxations may be good news for departmental personnel, but they also will make it easier for foreign visitors to travel to U.S. spaces such as the Beijing American Center or New York’s American Cultural Center, also taking advantage of the much more relaxed regulations.
In fact, U.S. officials say the vast majority of VWP travelers are “regular tourists,” rather than investors, journalists, or business people.
And after years of travel restrictions and ironclad requirements, the waivers may in fact make the U.S. a more welcoming destination.
Roger Maire, a former ambassador and former assistant secretary of state, told CBS he doesn’t want “all of the countries out there [to] want to get a visa, because you won’t see the same breadth of traffic in [the U.S.] tourism sector. We’ve got to raise the level of trust and confidence.”
Nadia Kehde-Incer is a Fox News contributor and chief legal correspondent for National Central News.