People traveling to the United States for the National Plastics Expo, scheduled for June 22 to 26 in Chicago, and to other U.S. trade shows should not waste any time in applying for visas. Begin the process well in advance of the event, according to the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., which produces the triennial NPE.

The process can take anywhere from one to three months - and sometimes longer, depending on the country of origin. SPI notes that the process involves:
  • Making an appointment for an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in one's home country.
  • Submitting an application, passport and supporting documents at the interview.
  • Allowing for a period of time after the interview for the application to be reviewed and processed.
SPI says that one of the required documents is an official letter of invitation from SPI to attend NPE. This letter can be requested as part of registering in advance for the event.

The U.S. government has extensive information on the visa process at www.unitedstatesvisas.gov/index.html. This web site includes a page with links to the sites of U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world, typically providing local visa information in the host-country language as well as English. NPE registrants can obtain additional visa information and assistance by clicking on the "International" button at www.npe.org.

"Some international registrants for our last NPE in 2006 were unable to attend because they did not obtain visas in time, and we have since seen similar problems for other events in the United States," says Gene Sanders, SPI's vice president in charge of trade shows.

Currently, citizens of only 27 countries do not need a visa to enter the United States. However, even travelers from these "Visa Waiver Program" countries are facing increased requirements for entering the U.S. Since 2006, VWP travelers have needed machine-readable "e-passports," and as of January 2009, all VWP travelers will be required to complete Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) applications detailing their travel plans prior before their travel to the United States. If the application is rejected, then the traveler will need to apply for a visa. Information on countries participating in the VWP is available at travel.state.gov.

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