The Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act

December 18, 2015
Blog Post

Recently, Congress acted to address vulnerabilities in our visa waiver program by passing H.R. 158 – the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act. Following terrorist attacks in Paris, much attention was called to vulnerabilities in our visa waiver program.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) introduced the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act, which became the basis of Congressional action.

The most important aspects of the legislation provide for specific, concrete changes to ensure better information-sharing among intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The bill requires screening of all travelers against INTERPOL databases. It makes it harder to falsify identity by requiring fraud-resistant e-passports that contain biometric information. It compels U.S. security agencies to conduct more frequent threat assessments of Visa Waiver Program countries, something that – until now – was not part of US law.

The bill does not address the travel of American citizens. Rather, it requires that citizens of countries that participate in our visa waiver program (mostly Europeans) who have traveled to – or are dual citizens of – Iraq, Syria, or states that sponsor terrorism to participate in an in-person interview at a US embassy or consulate abroad in order to receive a travel visa. If they pass this interview and security check, they will be permitted to travel to the United States unimpeded.

Thousands of European citizens have gone to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Many others went to Syria or Iraq on humanitarian missions, like Doctors Without Borders. The visa interview, conducted by U.S. consular official, will establish the circumstances of their visit.

This is the same process that most visitors to the United States already experience. The effect of this legislation means if you are a German Citizen who visited Syria last year, you will have the same visa process that every Israeli, every Pole, every Ethiopian, and every Mexican has.  Few believe it's unreasonable that people in Thailand, India or Brazil undergo interviews for visitor visas.  And this change in the visa waiver program is not unreasonable either.