Proposed Senate bill would tighten Visa Waiver Program

2 Dec 15

UNITED STATES

A bill introduced in the Senate on Tuesday by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., would require travelers approved under the Visa Waiver Program to submit fingerprints and photographs before traveling to the U.S. and hold an e-passport containing an electronic chip with biometric data and document authentication identifiers.

The bill, titled the “Visa Waiver Program Security Enhancement Act,” would also prohibit anyone who has traveled to Iraq or Syria in the past five years from entering the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program – they would be required to obtain a visa at a U.S. consulate. The Department of Homeland Security would have discretion to deny entry to travelers under the program on national security grounds.

Other provisions of the bill would impose new criteria on countries participating in the program, including a requirement that countries fully implement intelligence-sharing agreements with U.S. agencies. The cost of security enhancements would be covered by increasing the visa waiver traveler fee.

The Visa Waiver Program has come under criticism for potential security gaps. The proposed bill follows Monday’s White House announcement on changes to the program in response to recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Approximately 20 million travelers from 38 participating countries, including most of Europe, travel to the U.S. under the program every year.

The bill has bipartisan support by cosponsors Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Dan Coats, R-Ind., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Angus King, I-Maine, Mark Warner, D-Va., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

The House is expected to propose its own bill in coming days.

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