VENEZUELA, Venezuela – The US State Department has issued an advisory to Venezuelans who want to enter the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), an international agreement that has opened doors for millions to travel to the US since President Donald Trump took office.
The VWP allows people from across the world to apply for a visa to enter and work in the US, as well as obtain a US passport and an entry stamp.
It has already been used by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan nationals, many of them women and children, and is expected to become a bigger draw for Venezuelans as their economy crumbles.
The White House announced on Friday that the Trump administration is providing financial assistance to families of people killed in the 2016 Venezuela-Cuba war, saying the families have been told by the Department of Homeland Security that they are eligible to apply.
“In addition to the assistance the State Department is providing in the form of direct financial assistance, the Trump Administration has also authorized the United States to provide financial assistance through the Department’s VWP program, including by purchasing travel documents for the families of those who died in the war,” a White House statement said.
“We look forward to continuing to work with our partners in the United Nations to ensure that all eligible Venezuelans, regardless of their nationality, are able to come to the United Nation’s Headquarters in New York and participate in the VWP exchange process.”
Venezuelan officials have been seeking a visa for the past year to help them send their families abroad, and in late January, Venezuela sent a letter to the Trump government seeking a waiver.
A Venezuelan official said the country was expecting to receive at least 50 applications for the waiver by the end of this week.
The White House did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
Venezuela has been a main entry point for Venezuelan migrants to the Americas for decades.
The country is currently home to around 4.5 million people, and the number of Venezuelanos living abroad is growing rapidly, with the number expected to increase to 8.6 million by 2035, according to government figures.
Venezuela’s economy is suffering, with inflation at over 100 per cent, shortages of food and medicine and a lack of infrastructure.
The Trump administration announced in February that it would grant visas to Venezuelan expatriates for up to a year to allow them to visit family members and friends.VWP applicants have to complete a lengthy application and submit it to the Department within 60 days, and it takes about two weeks to receive a visa.
The process can be complicated, however, with visa applications sometimes requiring additional documentation and proof of residence, and often requiring a signature from a US citizen.
Vendors selling VWP cards on the internet and through other means have said the Visa Card will not be required for the visa process.
Vera Flores, who was among those who applied for a VWP visa on Wednesday, said she was expecting her application to be processed within days, although she did not have confirmation from the State State Department.
“I am very hopeful because I am so grateful for the support that the US government has given me, especially my husband who is a US national,” she told Al Jazeera.
“I will wait for the arrival of the Trump visa cards to give me some assurance that I will be able to get to the USA.”VWP is not the only visa program that is drawing the interest of Venezuelas.
The Trump administration has been cracking down on visa fraud, particularly in the Latin American region, and has recently suspended visas for many Venezuelans.
The Venezuelan government has already banned the use of a Visa Waivers program called the El Camino de Santiago Program, which allows Venezuelans to apply to the program and apply for US visas.
“The government has decided that Venezuela is not a legitimate country, but it is not in a position to cancel this program,” said Carlos Romero, spokesperson for the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC.
“VWP was not designed for Venezuelas to go to the country to work and then return to their home countries.
The programme was designed for the people of the US and its citizens.”
Visa cards are also being used to help Venezuelans with long-term stays in the country.
On Wednesday, the Venezuelan government also announced that people who have lived in the continental US for at least five years would be allowed to apply under the same VWP terms as those in the southern states of Texas and Louisiana.
The Venezuelans will need a valid passport from the Venezuelan Consulate General of the United Kingdom and an expatriate visa from the embassy of the Republic of Venezuela.