PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is getting close to attaining visa waiver status to the United States, said US Ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir.
She said with a 96.7% approval rate for US business (B1) and tourist (B2) visas, Malaysia was almost there in getting the waiver, Star reported.
A country needs to attain an above 97% approval rate for these visas before it can qualify for the US Visa Waiver Programme (VWP).
The VWP enables citizens of specific countries to travel to the US for tourism, business or transit for up to 90 days.
“However, Malaysia has not reached the full ‘standard’ as border and travel security measures must also be improved,” the envoy told participants at the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute’s (Asli) roundtable on “Enhancing Malaysia-US ties in a new era”.
She added that the Malaysian government needed to keep working on the list of requirements, which would also improve Malaysia’s safety standards.
The approval rate for Malaysians applying for US student visas was now at 99%, said Lakhdhir, who assumed her duties here in January.
Referring to the travel ban imposed on Muslim-majority countries by the Trump administration, she said Malaysia would not be affected.
“US President Donald Trump’s executive order to ban the entry of people from six Muslim-majority countries would not affect Malaysia,” she was quoted as saying by the daily.
On June 29, the ban came back into effect after being challenged in American courts for over five months and now it applies to visa applicants from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen for the next 90 days.
Lakhdhir said although the Trump administration was re-looking at procedures on travel and border security, it had made no formal statement on the VWP for Malaysia.
Meanwhile, she said that Malaysia was among the top 25 places of origin of international students in the US, with nearly 8,000 students there presently, an 8.3% increase from 2016.
“The US has a goal of increasing the number of Malaysians studying there but there was a misconception that student visas were hard to obtain and that Muslim students were not welcomed,” she was quoted as saying by Star.
Lakhdir hoped Malaysian students in the US would act as ambassadors of American education based on their positive experience there.