While the Department of Homeland Security has been in the process of making improvements to the security of the Visa Waiver Program over the course of the past year, the recent attacks in Paris brought a new urgency to the timeline for implementation of these enhanced security measures. The White House recently announced several “Enhancements” to the Visa Waiver Program on their website.
The Visa Waiver Program, allows individuals from 38 countries, most European, to enter the U.S. without the scrutiny imposed by the visa application process. As investigators discovered that the extremists who carried out the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris were European citizens who could have entered the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program, it became clear that this program, designed to facilitate tourism and trade with “friendly” countries, was a potential area of vulnerability.
Planned enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program include some basic systems updates like modifying the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ETSA) to capture more information regarding past travel to countries that are considered to constitute a “terrorist safe haven”, to more complex solutions that require greater cooperation with Visa Waiver Program partner countries and Congress.
On December 8, 2015 the House passed legislation that prohibits individuals who have visited Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Sudan within the last five years from travelling to the United States without a visa regardless of their country of citizenship. In addition, the legislation includes measures that require a Visa Waiver Program partner country to transmit anti-terrorism data and requires the Department of Homeland Security to terminate a country’s participation in the program if they fail to transmit this required data in a timely manner.
Changes to the Visa Waiver Program process are certain to make current, or past, travel to certain countries result in delays for travellers. We will continue to follow developments and post updates as they occur.