White House Releases Fact Sheet on Enhancements to Visa Waiver Program

This week the White House released a Fact Sheet detailing enhancements that are to be made to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which included several new security changes. The Administration explained that these enhancements are being implemented in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks in Paris.  

In addition to enhanced security measures already made to the program over the course of the last year, including new security-related data fields and new traveler screening and information sharing requirements with VWP countries, the new changes announced in the Fact Sheet aim to aggressively strengthen the VWP and bolster relationships with VWP partner countries on an accelerated basis.  More specifically, the Fact Sheet states that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will immediately take steps to modify its Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) applications to capture information from VWP travelers regarding any past travel to countries constituting a terrorist safe haven. Additionally, the new enhancements will includes measures to evaluate and further facilitate terrorism-related information sharing between the U.S. and VWP countries including piloting real time biometrics checks on refugees and asylum seekers in WVP countries and working with Congress to increase penalties and fines for failure to comply with passenger screening requirements.  The Administration indicated that it is working with Congress to provide statutory authority for many of the key security enhancements it has proposed to the VWP.

The Fact Sheet follows a Statement issued by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson on August 6, 2015 discussing steps that have been taken to strengthen the screening of those who are traveling to the United States, including security enhancements to the VWP.

DHS Announces Intention to Implement Security Enhancements to Visa Waiver Program

On August 6, 2015, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"), Jeh Johnson, released a statement announcing DHS and the State Department's intent to implement a number of additional or revised security criteria for all participants in the Visa Waiver Program ("VWP"). These criteria will apply to both new and current members of the Program.  In addition, these enhancements are intended to build upon the additional data fields of information added to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization ("ESTA") application last fall.

The most significant of the new security enhancements include:

  1. The requirement that VWP members use e-passports for all travel to the U.S.
  2. The requirement that the INTERPOL Lost and Stolen Passport Database be used to screen travelers crossing the borders of a VWP country.
  3. Permission for expanded use of U.S. federal air marshals on international flights from VWP countries to the U.S.

Secretary Johnson's statement emphasized that the new measures were intended to enhance security without hindering lawful trade and travel between VWP participating countries.