***Update: January 21, 2016 The United States Government began implementing the changes described below. Travelers who currently have valid Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTAs) and who have previously indicated holding dual nationality with Iraq, Syria, Iran, or the Sudan on their ESTA applications will have their current ESTAs revoked. U.S. lawmakers of both parties support the recent proposed House legislation to tighten security measures relating to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). A different version of this bill, which pending in the Senate, goes father and requires a new biometrics requirement for all visa waiver visitors. While the travel industry recognizes the need to heighten security, it supports what it believes to be the more balanced approach taken by the House.
When will U.S. Visa Waiver Program Changes Take Effect?
The White House agrees with the proposed changes and it looks like legislation to reform the Visa Waiver Program will likely pass by the end of the year.
Will those traveling to the United States from the EU and other Visa Waiver Program partner countries be impacted?
Yes, the proposed legislation bars passport holders from any of the 38 Visa Waiver Program partner countries who were born in, (or are dual nationals of) Iraq, Syria, Iran or the Sudan, or such passport holders who had visited those countries within the past five years, from entering the United States without a visa regardless of where they were born.
Are U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents impacted by the Visa Waiver Program changes?
No. U.S. Citizens and Lawful U.S. Permanent Residents are not impacted by these changes regardless of place of birth or past travel.
Could dual nationality pose issues for those traveling to the U.S.?
Dual nationals actually present an area of vulnerability with the proposed changes to the Visa Waiver Program. With potential dual nationals, how will Customs and Border Protection (CBP) determine a traveller’s countries of nationality? For example, a child born of an Iranian father is a citizen of Iran regardless of where he or she is born. The same is true for children of Iraqi fathers. Even if CBP is schooled on the intricacies of the nationality laws of Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Sudan, it will be difficult if not impossible to identify a potential dual national unless they self-identify. In cases where CBP suspects dual nationality but the individual is unaware, they may face potential charges of fraud in failing to indicate their dual status. The House bill calls for greater information sharing between the 38 participating countries and the United States which may help CBP identify dual nationals who present at the border seeking admission under the Visa Waiver program.
What are some unintended consequences of the proposed Visa Waiver Program changes?
The bar against individuals from the Visa Waiver Program partner countries who have traveled to Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Sudan may have some unintended adverse effects on humanitarian aid and the fight against terrorism. There are a large number of humanitarian aid workers, consultants, and researchers who are nationals of VWP countries and who have visited and lived in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and the Sudan – often in the course of their work on human rights fact-finding missions, consulting with US military in-country and for other legitimate reasons. Many need to travel – with some urgency -- to the United States as part of their ongoing work responsibilities. Applying for a visa at the Consulate can take some time before the visa is approved.
What should travelers who may be impacted by the Visa Waiver Program changes do?
Given the likely passage of the legislation, these individuals may want to immediately consider applying for B-1/B-2 nonimmigrant visitor visas as soon as possible. In anticipation of the passage of the bill, it is hoped that the Department of State will take the likely spike in visa applications into consideration and make the necessary adjustments in their budget and staffing plans for its Consulates to avoid any potential adverse consequences as a result of the measures.