House Passes Vote to Restrict U.S. Travel by Foreign Nationals Who Have Visited Syria, Iran, IraQ or Sudan in the Last 5 Years

Today, in a 407-19 vote, the House passed legislation restricting certain travel privileges to nationals of visa waiver participant countries. The legislation, which has the support of the White House, is expected to be wrapped into the much-discussed government spending bill and become law in the next few weeks.

Rather than a comprehensive approach, this new legislation appears to be the first of what will be a piecemeal approach to implementing enhanced security measures in response to the November 13th Paris terrorist attacks and the recent shooting in San Bernardino, CA.  The legislation comes in the wake of the White House's release of a  Fact Sheet outlining new security enhancements that would be implemented immediately to add additional security measures to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which is a program that allows nationals of 38 member countries to enter the U.S. as a visitor for up to 90 days without procuring a visa.

The legislation would ban nationals of visa waiver countries who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria since March 1, 2011 from traveling to the U.S. under the VWP. Such individuals must now obtain a visa to travel to the U.S., which requires an in-person interview at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy overseas.

D&S will continue to monitor the changes that are anticipated to be made to the Visa Waiver Program in the coming weeks and provide timely updates outlining new developments.

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.