Visa Waiver Program restrictions take effect

22 Jan 16

UNITED STATES

The State Department and Department of Homeland Security have announced that they have begun implementing new restrictions that prevent certain travelers from using the Visa Waiver Program to travel to the U.S.

The restrictions, signed into law as part of the omnibus federal budget on Dec. 18, affect travelers who, in addition to holding nationality in a Visa Waiver Program country, hold dual nationality with Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria.

As of Jan. 21, travelers who currently hold an Electronic System Travel Authorization (ESTA) and who indicated dual nationality with one of the four countries on their previous application will have their ESTA automatically revoked. These individuals will be required to apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in order to enter the U.S. A State Department spokesperson said in a press briefing that the agency is contacting those individuals by email.

The new rules also restrict travelers who have been present in one of the four countries after March 1, 2011. The Secretary of Homeland Security may grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis for those who have traveled to any of the four countries for humanitarian or journalistic work or on official duty, as well as for those who traveled to Iraq for legitimate business purposes or to Iran following the bilateral talks. The agencies indicated that they are exploring “whether and how” these exemptions could be applied to dual nationals.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have proposed legislation that would eliminate the restrictions on dual nationals. The “Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016,” H.R. 4380, was introduced by Representatives Justin Amash (R-Mich.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) on Jan. 13. Senators Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced similar legislation (S.2449) this week.

BAL Analysis: Travelers who are affected by the restrictions should plan to apply for a visa at least three months in advance of travel at their nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. BAL is monitoring the possible changes to the Visa Waiver Program restrictions being considered in Congress and will provide updates on any amendments.

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