A bill providing for Cyprus to join the United States’ visa waiver programme is set to go to the plenary in the coming days, the House foreign affairs committee heard on Tuesday.

On June 17 the governments of Cyprus and the United States signed an inter-state agreement on the sharing of travel information, including risk assessments of persons deemed dangerous to enter either country.

The purpose is to allow Cypriot passport holders to travel to the United States without a visa.

The government subsequently drafted legislation, which as it relates to an inter-state treaty needs the legislature’s approval.

During the House committee meeting, Justice Minister Marios Hartsios said that, should the bill pass promptly, possibly by the end of 2024, Cyprus could be included in the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) by 2025.

Committee chairman Haris Georgiades also confirmed that the bill would go to the plenary this week for a vote, stressing the urgency conveyed by the executive branch.

Hartsios highlighted that Cyprus is among the last three European countries, alongside Bulgaria and Romania, without such an agreement with the US.

The agreement involves the near real-time exchange of travel information between the two countries, with a commitment to confidentiality and use solely for identifying security threats or law enforcement purposes. The US will provide Cyprus with a software system for passenger data collection and analysis at no cost.

Hartsios said the Commissioner for Personal Data Protection had reviewed and approved the agreement, ensuring it complies with local and European laws.

He added that Cyprus would benefit greatly from the exchange of information, as it would enhance national security against threats like organised crime, drug trafficking and terrorism.

The system would also provide mutual updates on suspicious travellers.

Under the VWP, Cypriot passport holders who obtain a passport embedded with an electronic chip would be able to arrive at a US port of entry and seek admission to travel within the United States for up to 90 days under the B-1 business or B-2 tourism visa categories without applying in advance for a visa at the American Embassy.

The visa waiver does not remove the visa category for the traveller, but it does eliminate the need for applying at a US embassy or having a face-to-face interview with a US consular officer prior to the trip.