Visa Waiver Program for Tourists from Near-Bankrupt Greece – Really?

By David North on March 11, 2010

DHS Secretary Napolitano decided earlier this week to allow Greece to join the Visa Waiver program, so beloved by our tourist industry and other Open Borders types.

As one consular official (who will remain unnamed) e-mailed: "Let me get this straight. In the middle of the biggest financial meltdown to hit a European country in decades, we have added them to visa waiver?"

The visa waiver program, which has been existence for many years, allows people from well-to-do countries to come to the U.S. as tourists without getting a formal visitor‘s visa. It is easy for them, and brings prosperous tourists to this country who might not come otherwise. The program operates country-by-country and most northern and western European nations are participants, along with Japan and several others. It is confined to countries that contribute only small numbers of illegal aliens to our population.

Americans, typically, travel to those countries without bothering to get visas.

Greece, and many other Eastern European nations, have not been allowed to participate, because the fear had been that once in the U.S., the one-time tourists from these places would become longtime (and illegal) residents.

As the consular officer complained in the e-mail mentioned above: "Do these things [the Secretary's decision] coast on autopilot, irrespective of economic forces and current events? It would seem that with the new austerity moves [in Greece] and dramatically increased unemployment, a lot of these potential visitors may [drift into illegal status]."

I am worried, too, but I see it with a slightly different focus.

Secretary Napolitano's decision came hard on the heels of the visit of Greece's premier,
George A. Papandreou (who speaks flawless American English and looks like a prime minister from central casting). He was seen with Secretary Clinton at a joint news conference in which she said soothing things about our high regard for Greece.

Greece, after all, was on our side during World War II, and suffered terribly. It also fought off a home-grown Communist movement after the War. Lots of Americans have Greek names. There were many good reasons for Ms. Clinton's friendly remarks.

My concern, however, relates to the use of what I call the "Migration Card," which is sometimes played when a friendly nation is in trouble, and we are not, or cannot do much about it. In this case, perhaps we should, and perhaps we will, prohibit Wall Street from making many millions by betting against the finances of Greece, a policy discussed in a recent New York Times article.

Maybe we should encourage the International Monetary Fund to help Greece out of what can only be described as a self-created problem, caused largely by the free-spending policies of Papandreou's predecessors. Maybe we should lend the country a little money directly, at least enough to calm the markets.

Given the enormous political power of Wall Street, and our own financial difficulties, we probably will do neither, but we can at least play the Migration Card to show Greece that we are fond of her. This may be the hidden meaning behind Secretary Napolitano's recent decision.

There are precedents for the use of the Migration Card in other, somewhat similar situations. In addition to helping Haiti with money and troops right after the earthquake there, the U.S. played a slightly different Migration Card, giving all the illegal Haitian migrants in the U.S. a short-term (at least for now) legal presence, called Temporary Protected Status (TPS), as discussed in an earlier blog.

Similarly, during the Bush Administration, rather than intervening in Liberia's civil war, our military being bogged down in the Middle East, TPS was extended to Liberians illegally in this country, and then extended again and again. For more on this see Mark Krikorian's blog "'Temporary' Status Means Never Having to Say Goodbye."

There have been offers of TPS to numerous Central Americans for the same reasons.

So, maybe the consular officer is wrong; maybe we were not on automatic pilot; maybe, just maybe, the U.S. was playing the Migration Card to let Greece know that we are fond of that country, but cannot do much for it.