Despite being one of America's staunchest allies in Europe, Czech citizens still need to apply for a visa to visit the United States. For many of them, this can be a long and relatively expensive process. Some Czech politicians are now calling for these visa requirements to be lifted.
Although the Czech Republic currently enjoys very good relations with the United States, its citizens have to apply for a visa to visit America. This is primarily because the US fears that a significant proportion of Czechs going to the States have no intention of returning, but instead wish to remain illegally and work in the black economy.
The visa application process usually lasts about a month and people applying for a visa can expect to pay the relatively high sum of around 3000 CZK or 100 USD for their application to be processed. Lisa Helling, the press attaché at the US embassy here in Prague, described the main purpose of the visa application process to me:
"When a person applies for a temporary visa, they need to be able prove that their ties to their home country are strong enough for them to return. This varies from case to case, but it would include things like the jobs they have in the Czech Republic and what kinds of family ties they have here. These kinds of things demonstrate clearly that a person is in fact only going for a short visit to the United States and then will return."
There are 28 countries around the world, whose citizens do not need to apply for a visa to the United States. They have received this visa waiver status because for many years less than 3% of visa applications from these countries were refused. There are no official figures on what the Czech refusal rate is, but it is believed to be over 10%. Despite this, some Czech politicians, such as Social Democrat MP Vladimir Lastuvka are calling for the removal of visa requirements on Czechs as well. They say that making an exception for the Czech Republic would be an appropriate response to the country's willingness to participate in US military activities in its ongoing war on terrorism. There are even some who are calling for reciprocal visa requirements to be imposed on Americans wanting to visit the Czech Republic. Ms Helling believes, however, that even if these measures were implemented it would not have any bearing on visa requirements for Czech citizens.
"From our perspective, we have to look at this very realistically in the sense that we very much appreciate the good relations that we have with the Czech Republic and the active role that they have played in the war on terrorism. That's an issue that is in fact unrelated to our visa policy in the Czech Republic. The standards that we apply here are the standards that we apply in all other countries. For that reason it's difficult for us to even suggest that we could commit to making a different policy for the Czech Republic than we have in other places. The standards are clear, so it's actually a question of coming into those criteria than it is of trying to get - for example - an exception to what the existing criteria would be."
I asked Ms Helling whether there was any hope of the Czech Republic meeting these criteria in the foreseeable future:
"Well, in the sense that one of the key criteria is the refusal rate, part of that really depends on what the economic circumstances are here and as to what people's purposes are for travelling to the United States. So our hope is that gradually, as circumstances change here, the Czech Republic would come into the existing criteria.
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