New Law Heightens Security for U.S. Visa Waiver Program
The 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama on December 18, 2015 contains measures to increase the security of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows tourists and business visitors from 38 countries to enter the U.S. for up to 90 days without applying for a visa at a U.S. consulate. Under the program, travelers are required to register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) but are not required to appear for a visa interview, nor are they subject to a biometrics background check.
The new law makes the following changes to the VWP:
- Requires all VWP travelers to present an electronic passport and biometrics-enabled chip by April 1, 2016
- Bars VWP participation for travelers who have visited Iraq or Syria, or countries that have been designated by the US government as state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran or Sudan, or “any other country or area of concern” since March 2011; dual nationals of these countries will also be barred from participation in the VWP
- Suspends VWP membership for any country that fails to comply with its security obligations, including requirements to exchange traveler data, screening passengers through INTERPOL and reporting lost or stolen passports within 24 hours
- Mandates reporting requirements by the Secretary of Homeland Security, including annual review of VWP countries
- Modifies the ESTA application to collect additional data
- Changes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Customs and Border Protection Preclearance Program
To prepare for these changes, VWP travelers must ensure they have the required electronic passport with the biometric-enabled chip, as well as register with ESTA. VWP travelers should also expect additional screening and security measures. Individuals who hold dual citizenship with a country on the VWP approved list and Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, and VWP travelers who are now barred from using the program due to travel to one of the designated countries listed above, should plan to submit a visitor visa application at a U.S. consulate for their next trip to the U.S.
Gibney will continue to monitor the status of this matter, and provide updates as they become available. If you have any questions regarding this alert, please contact your designated Gibney representative, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.