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U.S. considering adding Israel, Romania, Bulgaria to visa waiver program

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October 27, 2021

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Tuesday the United States is considering adding four countries to its visa waiver program that allows citizens to come to America without a visa for a stay of up to 90 days.

“We have four candidates in the pipeline: Israel, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania,” Mayorkas said on Tuesday at a travel industry event. “We’re very, very focused on the program,” he added, saying it provides significant economic and security benefits.

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In September, the United States added Croatia to the visa waiver program. U.S. Travel Association Chief Executive Roger Dow said on Tuesday adding Croatia is a $100 million boost to the U.S. economy. “Each time you add one of these countries, the travel just booms,” Dow said.

The White House said in August https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/08/27/readout-of-president-joseph-r-biden-jr-s-meeting-with-prime-minister-naftali-bennett-of-israel after a meeting between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that Biden emphasized “his administration would strengthen bilateral cooperation with Israel in ways that would benefit both U.S. citizens and Israeli citizens, including by working together towards Israel’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program.”

Mayorkas also met with Israel’s U.S. ambassador in August and discussed the waiver issue.

In February, Mayorkas spoke with the European Commission’s Commissioner for Home Affairs and both “expressed their continued interest in maintaining the U.S.-EU Passenger Name Record Agreement and working with Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania to meet the qualifications for the Visa Waiver Program.”

To participate in the program, a country must meet requirements related to counterterrorism, law enforcement, immigration enforcement, document security, and border management.

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There are currently 40 countries in the program.

“These requirements include having a rate of nonimmigrant visa refusals below 3%, issuing secure travel documents, and working closely with U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism authorities,” DHS said last month.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Stephen Coates)

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China top representative in Macau to advise govt on national security-state media

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December 3, 2021

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s top representative in the semiautonomous gambling hub of Macau will begin advising the former Portuguese colony’s government on national security matters, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday.

The move highlights increased scrutiny from Beijing over Macau affairs after the central government declared outflows of Chinese gambling-related funds into Macau and other gaming hubs a national security risk.

Last week Macau authorities arrested Alvin Chau https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/gambling-group-suncitys-shares-set-rise-61-after-arrested-chairman-resigns-2021-12-02, the founder of Macau’s biggest junket operator, which brings in high rollers to play at casinos, along with 10 others, for allegedly using Macau as a base for an illegal “live web betting platform.”

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A warrant for Chau’s arrest has also been issued by the mainland Chinese city of Wenzhou, accusing him of forming an extensive junket agent network that helps citizens engage in gambling activities and of setting up a company that helps gamblers make cross-border fund transfers.

The move was seen as a warning that Macau and mainland Chinese authorities were adopting a zero-tolerance approach to the promotion of gambling in mainland China where it is illegal.

Xinhua said Macau asked Beijing to appoint a national security affairs adviser in the city and that Beijing tasked the head of its Liaison Office Fu Ziying to “supervise, guide, coordinate, and support” the government on the matter.

Beijing will also appoint three national security technical advisers from within the Liaison Office, which is Beijing’s main representative institution in Macau.

(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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S.Korea makes vaccine pass mandatory for many more venues as Omicron fears rise

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December 3, 2021

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea announced on Friday that people visiting restaurants and cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections and five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

The government also re-imposed limits on private gatherings, which had been recently relaxed, as the country posted record numbers of new cases this week.

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Desperate to fend off the Omicron variant, authorities halted quarantine exemptions on Thursday for fully vaccinated inbound travellers and made a 10-day quarantine mandatory.

From next Monday, people visiting 14 designated public spaces, including hospitality and entertainment venues, will have to show their vaccines passes, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a coronavirus response meeting, setting out the plan to reduce the risk of community spread. The public will have a grace period of a week to get used to the new rules.

While people have been required to show their vaccine pass at high-risk venues such as gyms, saunas and bars, it is the first time that the requirement has been extended to restaurants and cafes.

From February, anyone aged 12 years or older will have to show a vaccination pass. The government decided to lower the exemption age, currently set at 17 years, to encourage teenagers to get vaccinated as the under-18 age group accounts for 20% of all infections, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told a briefing.

The limit on private gatherings was cut to six people in the greater Seoul area, and eight outside, from the current limit of 10 in Seoul and 12 outside, Kwon said.

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South Korea has so far confirmed a total of five Omicron cases after a fully vaccinated couple tested positive for the variant after arriving last week from Nigeria. The patients are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms such as headache, low-grade fever, dizziness and sore throat, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

KDCA reported 4,944 COVID-19 cases for Thursday, a slight decline from record high 5,266 cases on Wednesday. It has reported a total of 462,555, with 3,739 deaths overall.

South Korea has fully vaccinated 91.6% of its adult population aged 18 and over, yet the booster dose uptake remains at 8.1%.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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U.S. House to consider bill to clamp down on products from China’s Xinjiang

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December 3, 2021

By Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. House of Representatives is set to consider a bill as soon as next week that would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labor, Representative Jim McGovern, the bill’s sponsor, told reporters on Thursday.

“Next week is an important week for human rights,” McGovern said. “… We think it’s important to move some China legislation, hopefully much of it focused on human rights. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act we want to see that get over the finish line in some form.”

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President Joe Biden is hosting a summit of democracies next week, seen as an effort to push back against China’s growing influence.

Republicans and Democrats have been arguing over the Uyghur legislation for months. Most recently, Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been demanding that the measure be included as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, delaying the Senate’s consideration of the massive annual bill setting policy for the Pentagon.

Rubio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether House passage of McGovern’s bill would change his stance on the defense bill.

If the Uyghur measure becomes law, it would create a “rebuttable presumption” that all goods from Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has set up a vast network of detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslim groups, were made with forced labor.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang, which supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels, but the U.S. government and many rights groups say Beijing is carrying out genocide there.

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Republicans have accused Biden’s Democrats of slow-walking the legislation because it would complicate the president’s renewable energy agenda. Democrats deny that.

“I just want to see a strong, a much stronger, approach when it comes to forced labor in Xinjiang,” Democratic Representative Dan Kildee told Reuters in a telephone interview, arguing that domestic production of solar panels could be ramped up.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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