Swiss nationals will continue to benefit from visa-free entry to the United States for stays of up to 90 days after the two countries initialled an agreement on the issue on Wednesday.
The US had posed two conditions to countries wishing to remain in the visa-waiver programme. On the one hand, it wanted an exchange of finger prints and DNA data in order to prevent and combat serious crime (PCSC); on the other, it wanted an exchange of data on known or suspected terrorists.
Under the new PCSC agreement, the exchange of data will be limited to serious crimes included on a list annexed to the agreement and to other crimes punishable by imprisonment of more than three years.
To meet data protection requirements, the two sides have undertaken to correct, block or delete personal data if one of the parties to the agreement so requests.
The United States has also agreed that the number of requests should not exceed a mutually agreed limit.
The agreement meets the conditions set by the Swiss government and the expectations of the Foreign Affairs Committees and of the Conference of Cantonal Justice and Police Directors (CCJPD), a statement by the Federal Police Office said.
The government is due to formally approve the deal at one of its upcoming sessions. The PCSC agreement still has to be approved by parliament, and could be the subject of a referendum.
The second element of the agreement, on the other hand, is a memorandum of understanding about improving the exchange of data on terrorism. It does not create any new rights or obligations and can be implemented under existing law.
The US embassy in Bern issued a statement saying that the US regards Switzerland as a close partner, with which it shares the same basic aims in pursuing crime and fighting terrorism.
It said the agreement would lead to greater security in international travel and better protection of the public.
Switzerland has been one of the 36 countries in the visa-waiver programme since 1986. However, only holders of machine-readable or biometric passports are eligible, and they have to register online for travel authorisation. Precise details can be found on the website of the US embassy.
The US Department of Homeland Security describes the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (Esta) is an “automated system used to determine the eligibility” of visitors to travel to the US under the visa waiver programme.
It collects the same information as the paper I-94W form that visa waiver programme travellers used to fill out en route to the US.
Esta applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel but the US recommends that travellers apply as soon as they begin making travel plans.
Applications require a $14 fee payment by credit or debit card.
Authorisation is generally valid for up to two years. It establishes that visitors are eligible to travel to the US.
Authorisations are valid for multiple entries.
Upon arrival in the US, visitors must pass through border control where a person can still be found inadmissible under the visa waiver programme or for any reason under US law.
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