Visitors from neighboring Caribbean islands will no longer require a visa to enter the U.S. Virgin Islands if an amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act by V.I. Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett remains in the final legislation approved by Congress. Plaskett’s amendment was accepted 235-190 by the full House of Representatives on Wednesday, her office announced in a news release. The delegate said the measure will help the territory better compete for tourist dollars.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (H.R. 4350) specifies the budget, expenditures and policies of the Defense Department for the upcoming fiscal year. More than 700 amendments were made during the markup of the bill, which the House voted on the week of Sept. 20.
“This amendment would allow the Department of Homeland Security to consider approving nonimmigrant visitor visa waivers for entry into the U.S. Virgin Islands for up to 45 days (primarily for residents of neighboring Caribbean countries). Such a nonimmigrant visitor visa waiver program is already being utilized successfully in both Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands for nationals of other countries,” Plaskett said.
According to the U.S. State Department, citizens of Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and the United Kingdom do not need a visa or Electronic System for Travel Authorization to visit both Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands because of the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program, though they must complete a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Form I-736 prior to travel. Chinese citizens also do not need a visa if they complete Form I-736 for temporary admission into the Northern Mariana Islands.
Form I-736 requires personal information including a person’s passport number, name and any aliases, birth date, contact information, country of citizenship, and criminal history, among other data.
“My amendment would extend this same program to the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Plaskett, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“This limited visa waiver program would better enable the Virgin Islands to compete economically with other islands and nations in the Caribbean community. A nationwide U.S. Visa Waiver Program already allows nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. This amendment would apply solely to the U.S. Virgin Islands and, because the Virgin Islands is outside the U.S. customs zone, it would not allow entry into any other part of the United States,” said Plaskett.
“The U.S. Virgin Islands must compete with other Caribbean islands for cruise ships and tourist visitors and for the most competitive tourist attraction. This visa waiver program will lead to increased tourism, greater opportunities to host international events, and more support for our small businesses that have been hit very hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and impact on the travel and tourism industry,” said Plaskett.
“For example, the Virgin Islands annually hosts numerous yacht shows and regattas; however, due to the extensive visa acquirement process currently in place, participation and attendance is significantly lower in comparison to similar events in other Caribbean islands,” said Plaskett.
The amendment will remain limited in scope to the Caribbean community and other countries approved by the Department of Homeland Security, and a provision also allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend waivers to any individuals or countries if they pose a risk to the law enforcement or security interests of the United States or at the Secretary’s own discretion, said Plaskett.
After approval by the full House, the legislation will move to the Senate where Senate Armed Service Committee members are considering their own version of the bill, S. 2792.