Overview

A coalition of seven Central and Eastern European countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia), each a strong ally of the United States, sought legislation that would allow for the granting of visa-free status for their citizens to travel to the United States.


Challenges

Expansion of the visa waiver program faced opponents at multiple levels and branches of the U.S. government. In particular, many Members of Congress categorically opposed the waiver program as a matter of principle, citing national security considerations.

Strategic Recommendations

To meet these challenges, Blue Star Strategies developed and implemented a comprehensive, multi-track strategy to educate key U.S. policymakers about the importance of the visa waiver program and the need to reform it in a manner consistent with the U.S. and Europe's common security and economic goals. Communicating the importance of including U.S. allies in Central and Eastern Europe, many of whom were EU and NATO members, was central to this strategy.

Program Highlights

Blue Star Strategies worked closely with the White House, Departments of State and Homeland Security, and both houses of Congress to rally supporters—and neutralize opponents—of visa waiver modernization and expansion. We also engaged key allies in business, relevant ethnic-American community organizations, public policy institutions, and prominent editorial boards.

Blue Star Strategies facilitated this effort through written and in-person engagement with members of the coalition, including the ministers, Ambassadors, and embassy staff of partner countries as well as key Members of Congress and their staff. We organized Congressional hearings that focused on reforming the program. We also developed successive, iterative round-table discussions hosted by area think tanks, and facilitated opinion pieces in The Washington PostNew York TimesWall Street Journal, and others.

Results

As a result of these efforts, combined with strong bipartisan leadership, the U.S. Congress ultimately passed—and the President signed—legislation that set forth a path to visa-free status for countries that make substantial improvements in their security capacity. This was the central substantive item of the coalition's strategic message.

The President announced that the nations that met the criteria for admission—as well as others on track for admission—would be included in the waiver program. Currently, each of the countries of the Coalition for Visa Equity has either joined the program or has begun the process towards full participation.