Articles Posted in U.S. Visa Waiver Program

On Friday, December, 18th, the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 2029) was signed into law. This law funds the federal government to the end of Fiscal Year 2016, but it also included changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

New Restrictions on Visa Waiver Program Eligibility for Certain Individuals (Effective Date: December 18, 2015):

– Individuals who have been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan (or other countries designated by DHS as supporting terrorism or “of concern”) at any time on or after March 1, 2011, are not eligible to participate in the VWP. The new law exempts those performing military service in the armed forces of a VWP country or those carrying out official duties in a full-time capacity in the employment of a VWP country government. In addition, DHS may waive exclusion from the VWP program if it would be in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States.

Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 into the Senate on September 29. This bill is the first comprehensive immigration bill that has been introduce in the Senate since 2007. It also combines key Democratic and Republic viewpoints and elements. Menendez and Leahy’s legislation proposes enhanced border security, mandatory employee verification, revisions to visa systems, a legalization plan for undocumented individuals in the US, and harsher penalties for illegal immigration.

To improve the security at our borders it specifically calls for improved training and more accountability for border/immigration officers, further cooperation with Canada and Mexico to improve border security, and reiterates that immigration power solely resides with the federal government. If passed, visa waiver privileges would be denied to certain countries, the waiting period would stop for refugees/asylees trying to obtain a green card, as well as increased penalties for immigration and visa fraud. Social Security cards would become “tamper-resistant” under the new bill to prevent fraud and the Social Security Administration (SSA) would be required to design a new more secure way of verifying social security numbers. Labor protections would also be expanded under H-2A, H-2B, H-1B, and L-1 visas in addition to preventing the expiration of green cards due to processing delays and establishment of certain exemptions from the quotas. A Lawful Prospective Immigrant (LPI) status for undocumented immigrants with no criminal background would be put into effect and it entails submission of data, security checks, and a $500 application fee for the LPI status of four years. Additionally, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 would include the DREAM Act and institute programs to help immigrants learn English and US civics. Click here to read the full text of the bill or to find out more information.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on June 3, 2008 the Interim Final Rule for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a new online system that is part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and is required by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.

“Rather than relying on paper-based procedures, this system will leverage 21st century electronic means to obtain basic information about who is traveling to the U.S. without a visa,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Once ESTA is mandatory, all nationals or citizens of VWP countries who plan to travel to the United States under the VWP will need to receive an electronic travel authorization prior to boarding a U.S.-bound airplane or cruise ship. The requirement will go into effect January 2009.