Negotiations successful — Switzerland to remain in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program

Keywords: Visa | Identity documents

Jean Luc-Vez, director of the Federal Office of Police, and Donald S. Beyer Jr., U.S. ambassador to Switzerland sign the PCSC agreement
Press Release, The Federal Council, 27.06.2012

Bern. Switzerland is to remain in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), allowing Swiss nationals to enter and travel in the United States without a visa for up to ninety days. The Federal Office of Police succeeded in negotiating with the United States Switzerland’s continued participation in the Program. The outcome of the negotiations is in line with the mandate issued by the Federal Council, which took note of the results on Wednesday. Formal approval of the outcome of the negotiations is scheduled for one of the next council meetings.

Switzerland has been participating in the VWP since 1986. Recently, however, the United States has changed its policy, requiring all of the thirty-six countries to the VWP to agree to two separate agreements on security cooperation in order to remain in the program. One agreement is the Preventing and Combating Serious Crime (PCSC) agreement, which provides for the exchange of fingerprints and DNA data. The other agreement, known as the Homeland Security Presidential Directive or HSPD-6, is a memorandum of understanding on exchanging intelligence on persons suspected or known to be engaged in terrorist activities.

The Federal Council spoke out in favour of Switzerland’s continued participation in the VWP on 1 February 2012, drafting for both aforementioned agreements a negotiating mandate that was approved by parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committees and by the cantons. The negotiations between Switzerland and the United States opened in early May 2012 and were concluded by reaching agreements, which were signed by Jean Luc-Vez, director of the Federal Office of Police, and Donald S. Beyer Jr., U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, in Bern on Tuesday.

Negotiating mandate not compromised

The results of the negotiations meet both the conditions set by the Federal Council, and the expectations of the Foreign Affairs Committees and of the Conference of Cantonal Justice and Police Directors (CCJPD). The scope of application of the PCSC agreement has been restricted to serious crime and to other serious crimes punishable by imprisonment of more than three years. An annex to the agreement details the criminal offences that are considered serious under the agreement. The agreement also regulates in detail the issue of data protection; among other things, Switzerland and the United States have undertaken to correct, block, or delete personal data if one of the parties to the agreement so requests. What is more, the United States accepts a quota on information requests, to be determined mutually.

PCSC agreement subject to optional referendum

The PCSC agreement is subject to approval by parliament and optional referendum. The agreement governs the mutual exchange of fingerprint and DNA data used for combating serious crime. Data are to be exchanged in two steps: first, a request for information is to be made to see whether certain data are stored in one of the databases operated by the other party. The result returned is either “hit” or “no hit,” meaning that the other party to the agreement has some information or has no information available in its databases. If a hit has been returned, personal data and further information relevant to a case are disclosed to the requesting party in the second step.

The memorandum of understanding on HSPD-6 is aimed at improving the exchange of data on persons suspected or known to be engaged in terrorist activities. The memorandum does not create any new rights or obligations and can be implemented under existing national law.

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