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10 Quick Facts: Visa Waiver Program and Proposed Changes

  1. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days, without the need to apply for a visa before traveling.
  2. Several bills are now under consideration which would cause significant changes to the VWP — namely, H.R. 158, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act and S.2362, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015.
  3. The proposals would revoke VWP travel privileges for citizens of VWP countries who are dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan. (Regardless of whether they have ever resided in or traveled to these countries). For example, a dual citizen German/Iranian business owner, who for 25 years has traveled to Florida several times a year to check on his investment, would now need to apply for a visa.
  4. The bills would also terminate VWP eligibility for anyone who has been to Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan in the past 5 years. (Such as a Japanese Journalist who traveled to Syria to report on human rights abuses by the Assad regime).
  5. Immigration advocacy groups believes the legislation should include exemptions for VWP travelers who have traveled to the four countries in question for professional or educational purposes.
  6. Currently, there is no “sunset date” for the bills. Some have cautioned that if congress passes the legislation, it should include a sunset provision requiring it to reassess the new VWP nationality-based provisions in two years.
  7. Businesses heavily reliant on the Visa Waiver Program in sending foreign workers and managers to the U.S. will need to plan around the new rules. If enacted, the traveler will need to apply for a tourist or business visa, which would require an in-person interview before a U.S. consular officer, and submission of biometric information.
  8. David O’Sullivan, the European Union’s ambassador to the United States recently spoke out asking Congress to refrain from rushing through the proposed changes without careful deliberation. Visa rules tend to be reciprocal, and it is possible that VWP countries will place similar restrictions on travel on U.S. travelers.
  9. While not yet law, the Senate is expected to seriously consider the measures. The House has overwhelmingly passed H.R.158, and reports from Washington indicate that the VWP changes are under discussion for inclusion in the end of the year omnibus spending bill which is currently under discussion.
  10. On November 30, the White House announced a number of security enhancements that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State in coordination with other federal agencies have already taken over the past year to enhance the security apparatus relating to the VWP.


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