On Monday, the White House announced some tightening of the visa waiver program, whose participants include countries such as France and Belgium. The Paris terror attacks were the obvious reason for the new measures.
“The visa waiver program has come under scrutiny in the wake of the Paris attacks as a possible security gap — the idea being that Europeans, for example, who’ve gone to Syria to train with ISIS could then easily slip into the U.S. because of this program,” reports NPR. “Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are working on legislation aimed at tightening the program.”
The new measures include closer tracking of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers who have visited countries “constituting a terrorist safe haven,” an accelerated Department of Homeland Security review process for VWP partner countries, more use of biometric data to identify travelers, and a review of counterterrorism information sharing with participating countries.
U.S. security agencies are tasked with giving more assistance to partner countries with screening refugees and asylum-seekers. American law enforcement and intelligence agencies will also deploy “Foreign Fighter Surge Teams” to help VWP partners block travel by terrorists.
Swifter and more severe penalties for national governments and airlines that do not fully comply with the requirements of the VWP program are also proposed, including “fines from $5,000 to $50,000 for air carriers that fail to verify a traveler’s passport data.”
USA Today quotes White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest telling reporters in Paris that the visa waiver changes would “enhance our security without undermining the international connections that are critical to the strength of our economy.”
Earnest could not resist taking shots at Congress even while calling on them to assist with the new security measures. “For too long, Capitol Hill has been a source of politically motivated posturing, but few if any tangible improvements to our national security. That’s wrong, it’s dangerous, and it falls far short of what the American people deserve,” he declared.
USA Today counters by noting that Congress has been considering changes such as the administration desires since before the Paris terror attacks, and some of those proposals are tougher than what the White House is now calling for.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Monday that he expected a vote in his chamber on a visa waiver reform bill before the end of the year. A bill drafted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) could be introduced as early as this week, according to U.S. News and World Report. The airline industry has also been supportive.