The APEC Business Travel Card allows visa-free entry and fast-track immigration for card holders when visiting member countries to conduct business.
The 19 fully participating countries are:
- Brunei Darussalam
- Hong Kong (SAR China)
- the Russian Federation
- the Philippines
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- Chinese Taipei
The US and Canada are transitional members that do not yet participate in issuing cards to their citizens, and do not participate in the visa waiver scheme. The US, however, passed legislation in 2013 to allow issuance of cards. On Tuesday the DHS issued interim final rule 79 FR 27161 The U.S. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Travel Card Program, and the CBP today issued their U.S. APEC Business Travel Card Program Frequently Asked Questions that applications will “soon” be accepted. The law only provides for issuance of the 3-year cards through September 30, 2018, subject to extension legislation. Even if not extended, cards will be valid for 3 years or passport expiration, whichever is first.
US citizen applicants will need to be members of a Trusted Traveler Program like Global Entry, and pay a $70 application fee. Application will be through the GOES portal, and will require a visit to a Trusted Traveler Program enrollment center for interview (first-time applicants) or signature (existing Trusted Travel Program members). In the background, the member countries then review applications to grant preclearance for each country.
Because the US does not participate in the visa waiver scheme, 79 FR 27161 states “It is not expected that foreign APEC members will recognize the U.S. ABTC in lieu of a visa.” This eliminates the major benefit of the program. What is left is expedited immigration, typically the same line as for diplomats. Another case of US visa policy boomeranging on US citizens. Even China and Russia have found a way to make this work with their stringent visa regimes.
The card is not valid for accompanying spouse or children, is not for leisure travel, and applicants must be “verified business person”:
A “verified business person” engaged in APEC business means a person engaged in the trade of goods, the provision of services or the conduct of investment activities in the APEC region. Professional athletes, news correspondents, entertainers, musicians, artists or persons engaged in similar occupations are not considered to be verified business travelers engaged in business in the APEC region when they are traveling in such a capacity.
This is a small step forward. Without visa reciprocity, the $70 and application process only makes sense for high frequency travelers that benefit a lot with the expedited immigration lines. Hopefully US citizens can get full benefits.
See APEC Travel for further information on the program and how it works for other nationalities.