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New Restrictions Proposed on Visa Waiver/ESTA Travel

1 Dec

On Monday, November 30, 2015, the White House released a new Fact Sheet on proposed Visa Waiver Program enhancements, some of which are already under way.

The Fact Sheet provides information regarding the existing security screening process for Visa Waiver travelers to the United States and describes recent enhancements to the program, which include the addition of new data fields to the application travelers must complete in the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before departing for the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.

In the wake of the attacks in Paris, which appear to have been planned and carried out by citizens of countries that are eligible for travel under the Visa Waiver Program, the Department of Homeland Security will revise the ESTA application form to include additional questions related to past travel to countries which provide safe haven for terrorists. Recent travel to such countries as Syria or Iraq might be deemed sufficient reason to exclude an applicant from visa waiver travel. Applicants refused through the ESTA system must apply for a visa and attend an in-person interview before traveling to the United States.

Other program enhancements include greater sharing of terrorist screening information among Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries, periodic review of VWP countries with a report to the President on compliance with information sharing objectives, assistance to VWP countries to better facilitate information sharing including biometrics, and increasing the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) fines for air carriers that fail to verify a traveler’s passport data before permitting them to board a plane destined for the United States.

The Administration further proposes to work with Congress on additional enhancements that may require legislative action to implement, such as establishing U.S. Customs & Border Protection pre-clearance stations in airports of more VWP countries, exploring the use of biometrics in the Visa Waiver Program, and greater use of INTERPOL to track lost and stolen travel documents and identify individuals who have recently traveled to conflict zones to train or fight with terrorist organizations.

Applicants should continue to submit ESTA applications as usual, renewing and amending applications whenever required, and answering any new questions that may appear in the system. Applicants who are refused ESTA clearance should consult their Foster immigration attorney to discuss possible reasons for ESTA refusal and potential eligibility to apply for a visitor visa to travel to the United States.

As always, Foster will continue to monitor current events and their impact on consular operations, and will make additional information available in future Immigration Updates© and on our firm’s website at www.fosterglobal.com.