In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks on November 13, 2015, U.S. officials have announced some changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens of designated countries to travel to the United States as temporary visitors (for up to 90 days) without going through the formal visa application process. VWP travelers are subject to strict conditions on the terms of their U.S. visits, including being ineligible to extend their 90-day stay, being prohibited from changing status, and waiving all rights to challenge removal/deportation if they do violate the conditions of their admission to the U.S. Visa Waiver visitors are also screened in advance via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
The changes announced by the Obama administration will seek to identify VWP citizens who have visited designated conflict zones, in an effort to identify and exclude potential threats. In addition, as the New York Times reports, the new measures "include potentially higher fines for airlines that fail to verify their passengers’ identities and increased information-sharing between countries".
By virtually all accounts, the Visa Waiver Program is a successful means of promoting international trade, while fostering positive and productive relationships with many of America's strongest economic and cultural partner nations. Thirty-eight countries currently meet the stringent VWP criteria, as published by Department of Homeland Security's Customs & Border Protection. By some estimates, approximately 20 million VWP visitors generate $100 billion in direct spending, in addition to substantial indirect trade activity.
The current executive action on VWP likely represents only a first step in tightening travel eligibility requirements. Additional measures may require specific Congressional action, as well as specific funding measures to permit the appropriate federal agencies to implement new policies and enforce regulations.
As always, we will monitor this situation closely, so that we may advise our clients about the practical impact of any changes in U.S. immigration law or policy. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or +1-603-792-VISA (792-8472).