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Cyprus moves a step closer to US visa waiver programme

Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou with US ambassador Kathleen Ann Doherty

Cyprus on Tuesday took a step to bring it closer to being allowed to join the US visa waiver programme by signing a deal with the US on strengthening cooperation in preventing and combating serious crime.

Cyprus remains one of a handful of EU countries still excluded from the programme, mainly due to the lack of biometric passports. The agreement signed on Tuesday is one of the prerequisites to moving forward.

The visa waiver programme allows citizens from states who have entered it to travel to the US for tourism or for any business reasons up to 90 days without having to go through visa procedures at the embassy. All a traveller needs to do is fill out the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) online for a small fee.

An announcement from the government said Cyprus had expressed its willingness to enter this programme, and that was the reason it has moved on to issuing biometric passports.

The agreement, signed on Tuesday by Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou and US ambassador to Cyprus Kathleen Ann Doherty, aims to enhance cooperation between the two countries in preventing, detecting, combating and investigating serious crime, punishable by imprisonment of more than one year, or by a more serious penalty.

“Recognising the importance of the prevention and combat of serious crime and particularly terrorism, Cyprus and the United States of America on Tuesday signed an agreement…. that further aims to facilitate better coordination especially for terrorism, through the exchange of information on suspects having committed, or who are about to commit, such crimes,” the official announcement said.

“In a period when terrorist acts are on the rise, the strengthening of the cooperation between Cyprus and the USA, at a political and operational level, is considered particularly useful and beneficial, as far as tracking suspects and preventing and investigating serious crimes and especially terrorist acts, is concerned.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry will be on Cyprus on Thursday to discuss more bilateral US-Cyprus issues along with the Cyprus problem and the situation in the region.

Speaking to the press after the signing, Nicolaou said Doherty expressed gratitude for the “cooperation they have had thus far with the police over the security measures to be implemented [during Kerry’s visit] and various other issues”.

“She noted that the measures taken are already evident, both with regard to the protection and guarding of the US embassy and other countries, and at airports and crossing points,” the Justice minister said.

“The police is already on heightened alert and readiness levels so that it can fully cope with the planning and requirements for the safe stay of such high guests in Cyprus.”

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