Meeting Mentor Magazine

March 2024

Even More Security

Changes Take Effect to Protect
Visa Waiver Program From Terrorist Harbors

Changes required under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2016) began to take effect on January 21. The following people are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):
• Nationals of VWP countries who have been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for government/military travel). A few weeks ago, the Department of Homeland Security added Libya, Somalia and Yemen to that list.
• Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria. (Those holding dual citizenship with Libya, Somalia and Yemen are not restricted.)
• Travelers without an electronic passport by April 1, 2016. (An embedded electronic chip secures stored information corresponding to the passport and bearer.)

Any travelers who receive notification that they are no longer eligible to travel under VWP remain eligible to for a valid nonimmigrant visa issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate, and will be required to appear for an interview.

Also as of January 21: Travelers with valid Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTAs) but holding dual nationality with Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on their ESTA applications will have their current ESTAs revoked. The ESTA application (updated in February) will be further revised with additional questions on travel to Libya, Somalia and Yemen — specifically since Mar. 1, 2011 — and released in Spring 2016. (An approved ESTA is generally valid for two years or until a traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first.)

The law does allow the Secretary of DHS to waive these restrictions on a case-by-case basis for individuals who traveled to the four designated countries, for such reasons as: on official duty for international or regional organizations; on behalf of humanitarian non-governmental organizations; or as a reporting journalist. Also eligible for waivers are individuals who traveled for legitimate business purposes to Iran (after July 14, 2015) and Iraq.

According to DHS, “the new law does not ban travel to or admission into the United States, and the great majority of VWP travelers will not be affected by the legislation.”

Why the VWP matters: More than 20 million visitors travel to the U.S. each year under the VWP, delivering considerable economic impact. Just in September 2015, international visitors injected $606 million per day, on average, into the economy.

How the VWP works: Citizens of 38 approved countries can travel to the United States for business or leisure for up to 90 days without a visa. Those 38 countries reciprocally accept U.S. citizens and residents into their countries for a similar length of time without a visa for business or tourism purposes.

Layers of security are embedded in the program. The individual travelers are pre-screened; information is checked against multiple databases and is shared with governments, law enforcement and intelligence services. As for the 38 countries participating in VWP, they are required to share information; report lost or stolen passport data; be subject to biennial eligibility review of foreign security standards and operations; and verify the level of law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S. — Maxine Golding

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