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Should Greece Be Admitted to the Visa Waiver Pilot Program?

Testimony Before the
Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims of the
Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives
by Wayne Merry
The Atlantic Council of the United States
(speaking in a personal capacity)
Thursday, February 10, 2000.

Mr. Chairman,
Is Greece eligible for the Visa Waiver Pilot Program? Arguments in favor include encouraging tourism, reducing the costs of consular services, foreign policy considerations, and even sentiment. With a background in Greek political and security affairs, I wish to address issues of law enforcement.

The visa is first and foremost an instrument of American law enforcement at our national borders, as are Coast Guard cutters and drug-sniffing dogs in airports. The visa is a screening mechanism and a deterrent to prevent criminal and other ineligible persons entering our territory. Waiver of the visa requirement is therefore a suspension of one of our frontier defenses, the furthest forward of those defenses in fact. The United States should set aside this tool only for countries whose own standards and performance in relevant aspects of law enforcement are comparable with our own.

Last spring the Clinton Administration established two criteria for Greece to qualify for visa waiver; neither has been met.  The first criterion was reform of the hopelessly outmoded Greek passport issuance procedures to prevent large-scale fraud. At present, there is little to prevent an enterprising retailer of false passports from obtaining a new passport every day of the week in different cities; there is also little effective control of document fraud in obtaining passports. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service offered its Greek counterparts assistance in creating a country-wide data base to deal with these problems, but to no avail. During a recent visit to Athens, a senior American official told me privately there has been no Greek action on this issue at all.