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Saturday, 8 July 2017

(The Star) M'sia taking positive steps towards attaining US visa waiver status

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is almost there in terms of attaining visa waiver status to the United States, according to its chief diplomat here.

US Ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir (pic) said Malaysia was getting close, with a 96.7% approval rate for US business (B1) and tourist (B2) visas.

To qualify for the US Visa Waiver Programme (VWP), she said a country needed to attain an above 97% approval rate for the visas.

The envoy, however, said the full “standard” had not been reached as border and travel security measures had also to be improved.

“The Malaysian Government is improving things towards achieving that goal. We need to keep working on the list of requirements, which will improve Malaysia’s safety standards anyway.

“The world is not getting any safer,” she said at the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute’s roundtable on “Enhancing Malaysia-US ties in a new era”.

The VWP enables citizens of specific countries to travel there for tourism, business or transit for up to 90 days.

Lakhdhir, who assumed her duties here in January, said the approval rate for Malaysians applying for US student visas was at 99%.

She assured Malaysians that they would not be affected by US President Donald Trump’s executive order to ban the entry of people from six Muslim-majority countries.

On June 29, the ban came back in effect after being challenged in American courts for over five months, and now conditionally applies to visa applicants from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen for the next 90 days.

Lakhdhir said the Trump administration was re-looking procedures on travel and border security, though it had made no formal statement on the VWP for Malaysia.

While the envoy could not predict the eventual fate of the VWP, she said there was no definitive move to terminate the initiative with Malaysia.

On Trump’s perceived isolationist policies, Lakhdhir said the United States was a global economy, and isolationist and protectionist policies would be untenable.

She said although the United States had a goal of increasing the number of Malaysians studying there, several factors were keeping Malaysians from going over.

These include a historic preference for studying in Britain, misconception that student visas are hard to obtain and that Muslim students are not welcome.

Lakhdhir urged Malaysian students in the United States to act as ambassadors of American education based on their positive experience there.

Malaysia is among the top 25 places of origin of international students in the United States, with nearly 8,000 students there presently, an 8.3% increase from 2016.

More than one million international students are enrolled at US higher education institutions, maintaining the country’s long-standing position as the world’s top host nation for international students.