House Votes for Stricter Visa Waiver Program Following Terror Concerns; Obama Announces Changes
Following recent terror attacks in Paris, France, and San Bernardino, California, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on December 8, 2015, to tighten restrictions on travelers under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows people from 38 countries to enter the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. The bill passed 407 to 19. The bill would require visitors to obtain a visa if they traveled to Syria, Iraq, Iran, or Sudan during the past five years, and would increase information-sharing among the United States and other participating VWP countries, among other things. The Senate has not yet voted on the legislation.
Also, President Barack Obama announced new security measures for the VWP, including gathering more information from travelers about visits to Syria and Iraq. The administration is also considering pilot programs for collecting biometric information from VWP travelers, and is urging Congress to allow an increase in fines against air carriers that do not properly verify passport data and to require all travelers to use passports that include security chips. These measures come amid pressure separately from many U.S. governors against allowing in an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees.
The U.S. Travel Association, which supports the House-passed measure, noted that the VWP facilitates international travel to the United States, generating billions of dollars in economic output and supporting U.S. jobs. International travelers stay longer and spend more while here, the association noted, with an average of 18 nights and nearly $4,400 per person per trip. For every 35 overseas travelers who decide to visit the United States, an additional U.S. job is created, the association reported. In 2014, more than 20.4 million travelers arrived through the VWP (59% of overseas visitors), generating $190 billion in economic output and supporting nearly one million jobs. “This is why, largely as a result of the VWP, travel is our nation’s number one services export, generating a trade surplus of $74 billion in 2014,” the association said.
See www.vwp.ustravel.org for more information, including a chart showing differences between nonimmigrant visas and the VWP in eligibility requirements, the application process, pre-arrival procedures, and port of entry requirements.