Changes to Visa Waiver Program announced

1 Dec 15

UNITED STATES

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, the White House on Monday announced new screening measures for travelers coming to the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program.

The program allows certain foreign nationals to undergo pre-screening and obtain an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to enter the U.S. without being required to apply for a visa at a consulate. Thirty-eight countries participate in the program and an estimated 20 million travelers use the program annually.

Under new measures, travelers will be screened regarding any past travel to countries considered “terrorist safe havens.” The White House did not provide a list of countries, but stated that the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence will regularly identify and review the countries. DHS will issue a review of the Visa Waiver Program within 60 days and recommend pilot programs to collect biometrics information to increase security. DHS’s report to the President will also identify measures to obtain cooperation by countries that have been deficient, including suspending ESTA issuances and renewals or requiring more frequent ESTA submissions.

The U.S. will also step up information collection and sharing with the 38 countries participating in the program. Other measures include working with Congress to add biometrics (fingerprinting and photos) to the program and to increase fines on air carriers that fail to verify passengers’ passport data from $5,000 to $50,000.

BAL Analysis: Travelers using the Visa Waiver Program should expect additional screening measures in the ESTA application, as DHS will immediately modify ESTA to capture information regarding past travel. The White House is working with Congress on other changes, such as accelerating the requirement that all travelers in the Visa Waiver Program hold e-passports. BAL will update clients on additional changes as they are proposed.

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