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Congress and President Agree on New Law Tightening Visa Waiver/ESTA Program

22 Dec

On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed into law the new Visa Waiver Program restrictions passed by Congress. The new restrictions exclude from participation those individuals who have been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria at any time since March 1, 2011, with the exception of military service members of participating Visa Waiver Program countries and certain government employees carrying out official duties of the governments of Visa Waiver Program countries. The new law also allows the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to review member country participation on an ongoing basis and further restrict and exclude countries from participation in the visa waiver program for failure to fully share biometric, criminal background, and security information.

Additionally, nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria are ineligible for travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, even if they are citizens of a country that participates in the program. Accordingly, an Iranian national who happens to be a citizen of Australia will not qualify under the new restrictions.

Nationality is governed by each individual country’s laws on citizenship and nationality. Accordingly, the determination of whether an individual is a national of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria will be made based on the laws of those countries. Nationality is broader than citizenship, so it is possible to be a national of a country without being a citizen of that country. Applicants who are unsure of their nationality or status with respect to one of these countries should contact immigration counsel in order to evaluate continued eligibility under the Visa Waiver Program.

Foster will continue to monitor changes impacting eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program and will make additional information available in future Immigration Updates© and on our firm’s website at