Piñera: Chile and United States to scrap tourist visa fees

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Published On : Tue, Jun 4th, 2013

During North American visit, President Piñera claims Chilean tourists will soon be able to enter the United States without a visa.

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera claimed Chile would soon become the only South American country to enter a visa waiver program with the United States, after he met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday.

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Chilean President Sebestián Piñera shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Photo by Gobierno de Chile

“We have made significant progress so that at some point in the future, hopefully soon, Chileans can come to the United States for 90 days without obtaining a visa,” Piñera said.

Currently Chilean citizens need either a B1 or B2 visa to enter the U.S. B1 visas are typically issued to tourists, while B2s are granted to those working abroad. Both visas come with a US$160 fee and are valid for 10 years.

With entrance to the Visa Waiver Program, Chileans could enter the United States for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa and, more importantly, without having to pay a fee.

“We hope to get this program approved,” Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno told 24 Horas. “All Chileans who have had the opportunity to travel know the difficulty and cost involved.”

More than 200,000 Chileans visit the United States every year, and according to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 130,000 U.S. citizens identify themselves as Chilean immigrants.

Only 37 other countries are members of the Visa Waiver Program. The majority of these countries are from Western Europe. Chile would be the first South American country admitted to the program.

Entrance to the Visa Waiver Program carries strict qualifications. Countries have to undergo evaluations from both the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Eligible nations must be considered economically and politically sound enough that it would be unlikely for any tourist to stay in the country past their visa’s expiration.

Despite this, Piñera said he is confident Chile will meet the Visa Waiver requirements.

“This program requires compliance to conditions to which Chile already conforms,” Piñera said. “We’ve helped the United States on issues from terrorism to organized crime.”

“The next step is an American entourage going to Chile to verify and certify the process. I hope this will happen in the coming months,” Piñera explained.

Gabrielle Guimond, spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in Chile informed The Santiago Times that, should both nations sign onto the Visa Waiver Program, U.S. citizens would no longer need to pay an entrance fee to Chile

“There are a number of requirements for entry into the Visa Waiver Program, one of them being that participant countries are required to offer reciprocal visa-free travel for U.S. citizens for tourist or business visits,” she said.

More than 140,000 U.S. citizens visit Chile annually and 12,000 live in the country on work or student visas. That number is expected to increase with Chile’s entrance to the Visa Waiver Program.  

The U.S. State Department has not made an official statement regarding the issue.

By Jordan Greene (jordan@santiagotimes.cl)
Copyright 2013 – The Santiago Times

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