Visa Waiver Program may not be available to certain travelers

The VWP (Visa Waiver Program), which is managed by the Department of Homeland Security with the help of the State Department, is a program that allows citizens from the 38 member nations to travel to the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa.  As a part of the arrangement, those countries must allow U.S. citizens to travel to their countries for the same amount of time without the attainment of a visa for business of tourism.  

Adopted in 1986, the VWP has created an international security community among its member nations.  According to the Department of Homeland Security’s website, “ The VWP utilizes a risk-based, multi-layered approach to detect and prevent terrorists, serious criminals, and other mala fide actors from traveling to the United States. This approach incorporates regular, national-level risk assessments concerning the impact of each program country’s participation in the VWP on U.S. national security and law enforcement interests.”  The program reviews VWP travelers before they leave for the United States, at American entry points, and during all air travel within the United States.  

With the recent attack in Paris and the incident in San Bernardino, Congress has begun scrutinizing the VWP.  This week, the House of Representatives voted 407 to 19 to overhaul the visa waiver program.  The new rules would bar those from Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Sudan, or those who have visited those countries in the last five years, from traveling to the U.S. without a visa.

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The American Civil Liberties Union, the National Iranian American Council, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee have recently made their opposition known to a proposed change to the VWP, that is backed by the Obama Administration. The groups claim that the House bill, which is reaching across party lines, discriminates against ethnic groups that may even have citizenship in the West.  The European Union has asked lawmakers to look back over the works and consider not going through with it, as it could impact U.S. citizens’ travel in Europe.  

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) released a letter saying, “We urge Congress to exercise caution and to avoid passing legislation that would broadly scapegoat groups based on nationality, and would fan the flames of discriminatory exclusion, both here and abroad.”

Following the November 13 attacks in Paris, the U.S. has been in a frenzy to set more restrictive immigration laws on immigrants and refugees of Syria and Iraq.  The attack was committed by French and Belgian nationals who are believed to have connections to ISIS.  

The ACLU sees a great problem in the broadness of the bill.  The ACLU claims that according to the bill,  a person who was born and raised in France but whose father is a Syrian citizen would be forced to obtain a visa prior to being able to come to the United States.  This is even applicable if that person has a French passport and never been in Syria.  

The NIAC, which lobbies for Iranian Americans said,  “Given that the Visa Waiver Program is reciprocal, participating countries can respond by blocking Iranian-American travelers from traveling without a visa.  Since Iran considers any children whose fathers are Iranian nationals to also be Iranian nationals, a wide swath of the Iranian diaspora may be targeted by this legislation. This is a dangerous, slippery slope.”