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White House Announces Security Enhancements for Visa Waiver Program

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White House Announces Security Enhancements for Visa Waiver Program

December 1, 2015 | Written by Laura J. Mazel

The Visa Waiver Program allows nationals from 38 (including many European) countries to enter the U.S. for tourism or limited business visitor visits without first applying for a visitor’s visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad.  Eligible travelers under the Visa Waiver Program must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approved prior to travel. While the Visa Waiver Program has always included security checks, travelers seeking to enter under the Visa Waiver Program must now prepare to answer increased security questions and may want to apply for trusted traveler programs such as the Global Entry Program.

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the government on November 30 issued a Fact Sheet where it discussed its ramped up efforts to prevent terrorists from using the Visa Waiver Program to enter the U.S.  Effective immediately, the government is implementing tighter screening requirements for entry under the Visa Waiver Program. Travelers will need to answer questions about any past travel to countries the government considers constitute a terrorist safe haven. The White House also related that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI will confer with other key agencies and issue reports to the President in 60 days identifying potential pilot programs to increase security measures,  including collecting fingerprints from travelers using the Visa Waiver Program, increasing DHS’ collaboration with the FBI on counter terrorism efforts and imposing significant monetary fines to  international airline carriers which fail to verify a traveler’s passport data.  We may anticipate potential future U.S. pre-clearance programs. 

This action occurs amidst criticism of the Visa Waiver Program by Republicans and other lawmakers in Congress, as well as the administration’s plans to welcome about 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year.  By contrast to the Visa Waiver Program, the refugee security clearance process takes several months.

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