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Visa Waiver Program admission celebrated during Capitol Hill reception
Feb 06, 2009
Washington, DC (JBANC) --- Over one hundred guests joined in celebrating the newest members of the Visa Waiver Program in a reception on Capitol Hill on February 3. At the end of 2008, eight countries joined the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), permitting visa-free travel to the United States for up to ninety days. Besides Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, these countries also include the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, South Korea, and Malta. 35 countries are now members of the VWP.

Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), a member of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus, affirmed that the passage of Visa Waiver Program legislation was one of his legacy efforts and that with it he and other colleagues have ensured the strengthening of public diplomacy and the bolstering of homeland security. That legislation, known as the Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act, ultimately became Public Law 110-53.

Sen. Voinovich announced recently he would not seek re-election in 2010.

Subcommittee on Europe chairman Robert Wexler (D-FL) helped spearhead the effort in the House of Representatives. He stated that “this is an especially gratifying moment and one that I believe is long overdue.” The VWP, said Wexler, has had a “positive impact on transatlantic relations and America’s partnerships globally.” At the same time, he acknowledged that more work lies ahead in bringing in other qualifying countries. The addition of 60 billion dollars annually from the VWP to the American economy, added Wexler, is “exactly the kind of stimulus we need during hard economic times.”

House Baltic Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich was among those praising fellow Ohioan Sen. Voinovich for his hard work. Kucinich and other Baltic Caucus co-chair Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) were also both instrumental in guiding the VWP legislation through Congress.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) participated at the event as well, along with as Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE).

Joining Czech ambassador Petr Kolar, master of ceremonies for the event, were ambassadors Väino Reinart from Estonia, Andrejs Pildegovics from Latvia, and Audrius Bruzga from Lithuania and their colleagues from Hungary, Slovakia, South Korea, Malta, together with Hungarian parliamentarian Janos Horvath.

Other attendees included numerous congressional staff members, administration officials, and representatives from the diplomatic community and national organizations, including Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. president Marju Rink-Abel, from the Estonian American National Council, Karl Altau and Monika Ramanauskaite.

JBANC represents the Estonian American National Council, Inc., the American Latvian Association, Inc., and the Lithuanian American Council, Inc.

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