The Department of Homeland Security is instituting new security requirements for those countries in the Visa Waiver Program — or countries whose nationals do not need visas for short visits to the U.S. — due to the threats posed by foreign fighters, DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson announced Thursday.
“As I have said a number of times now, the current global threat environment requires that we know more about those who travel to the United States,” Johnson said in a statement. “This includes those from countries for which we do not require a visa.”
The changes Johnson announced Thursday include expanding the use of U.S. air marshals on international flights to the U.S. from Visa Waiver Program counties, requiring all Visa Waiver Program travelers to the U.S. to use e-passports, and requiring the use of the INTERPOL database to track lost and stolen passports.
“The security enhancements we announce today are part of this Department’s continuing assessments of our homeland security in the face of evolving threats and challenges, and our determination to stay one step ahead of those threats and challenges,” Johnson added.
Currently there are 38 countries in the Visa Waiver Program.
The New York Times reports that officials are concerned about European Visa Waiver Program countries like Britain, Belgium, Germany, and France that have seen large numbers of their citizens travel to terrorist hot spots, and they are concerned those citizens may have received training that could be used to attack the U.S.
The Times noted that the U.S. estimates “that at least 18,000 foreign combatants, including more than 3,000 Europeans, have made their way to Syria since the conflict began there in 2011. Roughly 500 of them have returned to European countries.”