DHS Announces Security Enhancements to Visa Waiver Program

38 VWP Countries

The Department of Homeland Security, in an effort to improve border and travel security, is adding new enhancements for the thirty-eight countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The program permits citizens of member countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for stays of up to ninety days without a visa. Generally, the countries must meet high security standards and all visitors are vetted and must have an approved travel authorization issued by the Electronic System for Travel Authorization to travel to the United States. 

The enhancements include:

requiring VWP countries to fully implement existing information sharing arrangements by systematically screening travelers crossing their respective borders against U.S. counterterrorism information; 

assessing VWP countries on the effectiveness of safeguards against insider threats in the aviation security environment; and

requiring VWP countries having a two percent or greater rate of business or tourism nonimmigrant visitors overstaying the terms of their admission into the United States to initiate a public information campaign to reduce overstay violations by educating their nationals on the conditions for admission into the United States.

DHS is also calling on Congress to codify existing VWP requirements to bolster efforts in the following areas:

reporting of foreign terrorist fighter information to multilateral organizations, such as INTERPOL and EUROPOL;

systematically collecting and analyzing passenger travel data (Advance Passenger Information/Passenger Name Records); and

concluding arrangements to permit U.S. Federal Air Marshals to operate onboard U.S. air carriers for last point of departure flights to the United States.

Each year, roughly twenty million visitors travel to the United States under the VWP. The influx of European citizens into Syria and Iraq over the past five years to fight alongside the Islamic State (ISIS) and returning back to EU countries with full citizenship and travel rights is a concern for U.S. border security. In 2015, UN terrorism experts estimated that there were 20,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, of whom 4,000 were from Europe. A trained ISIS fighter could enter the United States undetected under the VWP unless partner countries actively monitor and report individuals who have spent time in countries where ISIS has held a stronghold or hosted training camps. “The United States faces an adaptive and agile enemy, as terrorists continue to explore ways to reach our country and to direct, enable, and inspire attacks against us,” said DHS 23Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen. “It’s critically important we stay ahead of these threats by improving our security posture. These enhancements will strengthen the program, and they are part of our continued efforts to raise the baseline for homeland security across the board.”

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