A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation that would impose additional requirements on the Visa Waiver Program – which allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the U.S. for 90 days or less without a visa — as a means of helping to prevent terrorists from entering the U.S.
The legislation, introduced Tuesday by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), would require individuals who had traveled to Syria or Iraq in the past five years to obtain a tourist visa. It would also mandate VWP travelers to use an electronic passport, submit biometric information before traveling to the U.S., and require more intelligence sharing among VWP countries. The enhancements would be paid for by increasing the visa waiver traveler fee.
Of particular concern has been the fact that the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris were carried out by individuals would could have entered the U.S. without being vetted under the VWP.
“The Paris terror attacks were committed by French and Belgian nationals, which means it would have been possible for them to board a plane to this country using the Visa Waiver Program,” Feinstein noted Tuesday. “As growing numbers of foreign nationals travel to the Middle East to train and fight, and with 45 million lost and stolen passports on the black market, we must do all we can to secure the program.”
Feinstein urged that such “gaps” in VWP security be addressed quickly.
There are currently 38 VWP participating countries. The VWP countries are made mostly of European nations, however countries like New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan are also part of the program.
Monday the White House announced it was moving to tighten up VWP security but noted it would need assistance from Congress for more extensive security enhancements.
Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Dan Coats (R-ID), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have signed on to the “Visa Waiver Program Security Enhancement Act” as cosponsors.
“In the wake the Paris terrorist attacks, it’s important that Congress work together in a meaningful way to ensure that those who would do us harm on our own soil are unable to do so,” Flake said.
Update: In a statement provided to Breibart News following publication the U.S. Travel Association cautioned that the legislation could impose undue burdens on the travel community.
The travel community is all in favor of a good-faith congressional debate about enhancements to the VWP, but if the Feinstein-Flake bill imposes redundant, costly, inefficient protocols, it could ultimately do more harm than good.
The stakes are high. Negative impacts on international travel behavior may be a trade-off that many members of Congress feel like they can live with today, but at the very least they need a clear picture of what those are versus any purported security benefit.
The approaches advanced by the Obama administration and the U.S. House indicate that they understand the complexity and sensitivity of this issue, and we hope that other legislation in the Senate ultimately follows suit.