PUTRAJAYA: The Home Ministry is confident that Malaysia will fulfil the requirements of the United States' visa waiver programme (VWP) sooner than predicted.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said efforts to enable Malaysians gain a visa-free entry into the US may be achieved in under 18 months.
During his visit to Malaysia in April, US President Barack Obama said his government was prepared to work with Putrajaya to included Malaysia in the VWP, which allows citizens of participating countries visa-free travel to the US for stays of 90 days or less, for the purpose of tourism or business.
"He projected that this process would take one-and-a-half years.
"But we are confident that this period can be achieved sooner as only a few more improvements are needed to be carried out on existing systems in the Immigration Department," Dr Ahmad Zahid told reporters after attending the ministry's monthly staff gathering, here, Thursday.
According to the US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs website, a total of 38 nations were listed as participants of the VWP, including the United Kingdom, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.
Even though citizens of VWP nations may be granted visa exemption, these travellers are still subjected to certain requirements before boarding a US-bound air or sea carrier, including having first received approval through the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (Esta).
Dr Ahmad Zahid said among the improvements to be undertaken by Malaysia was implementation of the Advanced Passengers Screening System (APSS), which is expected to be rolled out by the middle of this month.
It is learned that the APSS is one of several new security protocols being put in place at the entry points of the country following the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
The APSS is said to enable the authorities to quickly check the background of people at the entry points.
"It (the visa waiver programme) may be implemented in phases, starting with business visitors and followed by tourists," Dr Ahmad Zahid said.