The inequality in travel visas between Korea and the United States will be removed soon. U.S. President George W. Bush has announced Koreas inclusion in the U.S. visa waiver program, allowing Koreans to travel to the United States for up to 90 days visa-free from January at the latest. Since 1981, Korea has allowed Americans to visit Korea with no visa for 15 days and extended the period to 30 days in 1999. Thus the inclusion of Korea in the U.S. visa waiver program is a welcome measure that properly reflects the longstanding Korea-U.S. alliance.
The U.S. visa policy toward Korea has been somewhat offensive. Washington has long included Japan and Singapore among 27 countries in the visa waiver program, while excluding Korea for its high rate of visa rejection. No matter what the criteria are, Koreans suffered discriminatory visa treatment. Whenever long lines for visa applications formed at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, the favorable impression of the United States in the eyes of Koreans eroded. It is also a matter of national status and pride in that visa exemption status means Koreans are considered eligible tourists with no danger of illegal stay.
Under the visa waiver program, those who want to visit the United States for tourism or business (B1, B2 visas) must have access to the electronic system for travel authorization, fill out the necessary and optional information including name, birthdate, phone number and passport number to have an electronic passport. Thanks to the electronic process, people no longer need to wait one or two weeks to get a visa. Electronic travel authorization remains valid for two years, saving 100 billion won (76.3 million U.S. dollars) a year in visa issuance. Last year, 360,000 Koreans applied for U.S. visas and each paid 330,000 won (251.91 dollars) in fees.
Three months ahead of his leaving office, President Bush fulfilled one of his pledges. With this momentum, it is hoped that he can ask Congress to ratify the bilateral free trade agreement as soon as possible. He is said to have urged Congress yesterday to prioritize free trade deals with Korea, Columbia and Panama. If he persuades Congress to ratify the agreement, Bush will be remembered as a U.S. president who greatly contributed to strengthening the Korea-U.S. partnership.
Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (firstname.lastname@example.org)