Both Romania and Croatia are in talks with the US administration to participate in the Visa Waiver Program. This is a cooperation agreement which allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the USA without a visa. These travellers can instead apply for an ESTA, which is easier and cheaper than applying for a visa.
ESTA system: not for every country
Many countries from all over the world are striving to participate in the US Visa Waiver Program. The reason for this is that with access to this system, citizens of these countries do not have to go through the long (and often expensive) visa application process of America any more when they want to travel to this country. An ESTA can be applied for entirely online, which means that there is no need to visit the embassy or consulate. To apply for an ESTA, you only need to fill in the online application form. After approval, the ESTA will be automatically linked to your passport. An ESTA is therefore not a paper document, but a digital travel authorisation. At the airport, travellers only need to have their passport scanned in order to board the plane.
However, the ESTA system is not open to all travellers. The United States is currently making the programme available to citizens of 39 countries of which the US government deems they do not pose a threat to national security. These include the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Romania and Croatia are on the threshold
There are currently four EU countries that do not participate in the Visa Waiver Program: Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus. The European Union has repeatedly urged the United States to include these four countries in the visa-free travel system. Of these four countries, Croatia and Romania are the two whose citizens will probably soon be able to travel to the USA without a visa. Croatiaʼs Minister of Foreign and European Affairs said he expects the US government to announce the decision soon.
Romania is also hopeful that it will be admitted to the Visa Waiver Program. The American government looks primarily at the domestic economy and political stability of countries to determine whether their citizens can travel to the USA without a visa. Romania is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, with an average unemployment rate of under 4%, which is lower than many other EU countries.
One of the most important requirements the American government imposes on countries in order to participate in the Visa Waiver Program is that the number of visa applications rejected by the US embassy in that country must be less than 3%. This enables the American government to determine whether it is worthwhile for this country to participate in the ESTA programme at all. Although an ESTA is cheaper and easier to apply for than a visa, the requirements are usually stricter. Travellers who are not eligible for an ESTA often go to the embassy to apply for a visa. If a country has a relatively high visa rejection rate, US Immigration knows that there is little point in relaxing visa requirements for that country. If you are already ineligible for a visa, there is virtually no chance that an ESTA application will be approved.