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            Mayor Mufi Hannemann today applauded a new Visa Waiver Program agreement between the U.S. and Korea which is expected to soon allow Koreans to travel visa-free to the U.S.


            “Travel and tourism is vital to our economy and helps enhance America’s image around the world, so I’m very pleased that this agreement to facilitate travel from Korea is moving forward,” said Mayor Hannemann.


            The agreement, called a Memorandum of Understanding, could designate Korea as a Visa Waiver Program member as soon as this year.


            “This is a significant milestone,” said Mayor Hannemann. “South Korea’s admittance into the Visa Waiver Program offers great benefits for Honolulu. With our continued decline in international visitors, South Korea represents a major opportunity for us with 11.6 million outbound travelers in 2006. In addition to the economic benefits, making it easier to visit the U.S. will be meaningful to the members of our local Korean community with family and friends in Korea


Mayor Hannemann traveled to South Korea in October 2007, where he expressed his support for South Korea’s admittance into the Visa Waiver Program with Incheon Mayor Ahn Sang-soo, Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow, and Director General Kim Bong-hyun of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.


As chairman of the Tourism, Arts, Parks, Entertainment and Sports Committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mayor Hannemann has strongly advocated for expansion of the Visa Waiver Program.


“Since 9/11, international tourism has increased in other parts of the world by some 20 percent, yet decreased in our country by some 17 percent,” Mayor Hannemann said. “Foreign visitors increasingly consider the U.S. as having the world’s worst entry process and are spending their travel money in other destinations. That’s why it’s so important for us to expand the Visa Waiver Program where possible, without compromising security concerns.”


The U.S. Conference of Mayors has adopted resolutions supporting visa reforms, entry improvements, travel promotion, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, and expanding leisure travel from China.


“I have worked with the nation’s mayors, in partnership with the travel industry, on efforts to advance travel and tourism policies on a national level – which will bring significant benefits to Honolulu,” Mayor Hannemann said.


Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff signed today the Visa Waiver Program Memorandum of Understanding with Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan.


The U.S. Congress authorized the Department of Homeland Security in August 2007 to reform the Visa Waiver Program and strengthen the security arrangements required of existing participant countries, as well as to expand the conditions from aspiring countries to join the program.

Among the security enhancements required, DHS will establish an electronic system of travel authorization for air passengers. VWP travelers will be asked to provide some basic information online, which will generate an authorization number for travel.  DHS will announce complete details on how the authorization systems will work, and when they will begin, later this year. VWP partners also must ensure reporting of lost and stolen passports to avoid fraudulent use and enhance security measures for airports that originate flights to the U.S., to include permitting air marshals on certain flights.

The VWP has been authorized by U.S. law for over 20 years, with 27 current members from Asia and Europe.  The U.S. has signed enhanced VWP agreements with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania and Malta in recent weeks. Each country committed to meeting the new requirements of the program, to include an electronic system of travel authorization.

Contact: Bill Brennan, 527-6928

Friday, April 18, 2008

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