Travelers from certain countries who wish to come to the U.S. may enter without obtaining a visa. This process is called the Visa Waiver Program because in certain situations when traveling to the U.S. for a short period of time the visa requirement is waived. The Visa Waiver Program applies to citizens and nationals of 38 participating countries. However, after the Paris attacks that occurred last month U.S. legislators are considering tightening up the Visa Waiver Program. The proposed changes could make it more difficult for some to visit the U.S. It is likely that the ease of travel for those currently covered by the Visa Waiver Program will change and now many may be required to undergo stricter security checks before traveling to the U.S.
What is the Visa Waiver Program?
The Visa Waiver Program allows visitors who are citizens or nationals of 38 participating countries to come visit the U.S. for up to 90 days for tourism or business. The 38 participating countries include Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom amongst others. Those who come to the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program are generally also permitted to travel to Canada, Mexico or nearby islands and be readmitted to the U.S. Although the program attracts tourists because of the ease traveling without acquiring additional documentation, there is a strict 90 day stay and visitors may not overstay the 90 days.
What are the proposed changes?
Congressmen have suggested some reforms to the Visa Waiver Program and these proposals could be incorporated into a bill that may be voted on in Congress. One proposal is increased information sharing between the U.S. and countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. Visitors may be required to submit fingerprints and photographs before traveling to the U.S. Those coming from Syria or Iraq could face even stricter requirements, which may include anyone who traveled to either of those countries in the past 5 years. Electronic passports may also be part of the changes. To pay for the increased security measures, the price of the visa waiver could be increased from the current price of $14.
These restrictions have been suggested after the Paris attacks because the alleged perpetrators were French and Belgium nationals. French and Belgium are two of the 38 countries that are eligible for a visa waiver. Those driving the visa waiver changes argue that as the visa waiver program currently stands, the attacks could have easily happened in the U.S. if the attackers chose to come to the U.S. and easily entered on a visa waiver. While the Visa Waiver Program has increased tourism and utilized by many for easy travel to the U.S., the recent attacks at home and abroad could impose additional barriers for those who use the Visa Waiver Program to travel to the U.S.
Visa Waiver Program, U.S. Department of State