Meeting Mentor Magazine

June 2023

Cover Story

International Meetings Post-Paris:
Managing Risks and Visas

After the U.S. Department of State issued a Worldwide Travel Alert on Nov. 22 cautioning U.S. citizens about terrorist threats, the Obama administration followed up on Nov. 30 with additional security measures for the Visa Waiver Program. (This program allows visa-free travel to the United States for 20 million visitors per year who are citizens of 38 partner countries.)

What’s new:
• The Electronic System for Travel Authorization application will now require information on past travel to countries considered terrorist safe havens. These countries will be reviewed regularly.
• The Department of Homeland Security will speed up the review process for VWP partner countries and give President Obama a report within 60 days that will include: Possible pilot programs to assess the use of biometrics in the VWP and program compliance issues among partner countries.

Other actions will evaluate and facilitate better terrorism information-sharing between the U.S. and VWP countries; promote the Global Entry program (which uses bioemetrics to identify trusted travelers) among VWP countries; and seek Congressional approval to increase fines for air carriers that fail to verify a traveler’s passport data.

Legislators have been on the case since the Paris attacks. The most recent bill introduced in the Senate (S. 2337) would deny entry though the VWP to anyone who has traveled to Iraq or Syria in the past five years; these travelers would have to apply for a visa through the traditional process. To combat passport tampering, the bill also would require applicants through the VWP to hold a passport with an e-chip of biometric data.

“Without security, our industry is the first to lose, but we’re looking for smart security,” said U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow. In a statement, the association said it is looking for “sensible enhancements,” and has many questions about S.2337, which is cosponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and 19 others. “The approaches advanced by the Obama administration and the U.S. House indicate that they understand the complexity and sensitivity of this issue, and we hope that other legislation in the Senate ultimately follows suit.”

Some U.S. organizations that hold international meetings won’t be deterred by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere.

At this point, the Institute of Internal Auditors has looked at all contracted locations and is making no decisions to “reroute” to other locations. “With meetings all over the world — last year Vancouver, this year New York City, next year Sydney, and Dubai after that — we have a very robust crisis management plan currently in place,” said Jo-El LaBorde, IIA vice president, event solutions. “This template goes to our venues in our very first site visit. It captures all the components of anything that wouldn’t normally come at you.”

Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering’s events in Europe next year will take place in Paris in March and in Belgium in September, and are organized by members there. “We take our cues from them,” said SAMPE CEO Gregg Balko, FASAE, CAE. “They will not put customers in harm’s way, and we’re not seeing that yet. Life has to go on.”

The issue of security, however, was raised at Balko’s recent site visit at a convention center in California, since some presentations at SAMPE’s domestic events are open only to attendees with national security clearance. While the facility hadn’t changed its policies, he said, it has been placed on high alert for several years.

Balko does anticipate that international attendees to SAMPE’s U.S. meetings will face more difficulties in getting visas. “I assume the State Department will ratchet up [oversight],” he said. He noted that Chinese delegates at previous meetings already had been identified and watched, and expected that scrutiny of technology going to China will continue.

U.S. Travel has proposed four measures to increase travel security without an economic risk:
• Faster and wider expansion of the pre-clearance and immigration advisory programs that move security screening overseas and relieve pressure on gateway airports.
• Working with other governments to build their watch-listing and vetting systems, especially in aviation.
• Increasing availability of the Global Entry program to raise the numbers of rigorously screened, trusted travelers.
• Specialized screening for travelers who have recently traveled to countries of law enforcement concern, such as Syria, or for certain dual passport holders. — Maxine Golding

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