Changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

December 23, 2015

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.

- The new law also excludes from the VWP individuals who are nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan. Nationality typically depends on the laws of the designated country, so it is important to note that an individual may be a national of a particular country, even if he or she has never resided in that country and/or does not have a passport issued by that country.

Note: To participate in the VWP an individual must possess at the time of application for admission an electronic passport that is machine-readable.

New Conditions on Visa Waiver Program Countries:

-In addition to the restrictions imposed upon individuals, the new law also includes new conditions for participating countries such as passport security requirements, screening protocols, and information sharing. The new law also includes revocation provisions for countries failing to meet the new requirements. Some of these country requirements take effect immediately and others must be implemented within the next year.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of participating countries* to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, when they meet all requirements and have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

Source of Information:
AILA Doc No. 15122130 | Dated December 21, 2015, Web Page (Text):
H.R.2029 - Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, 12/18/15, News Article:
House Tightens Visa Waiver Program

Related Link:, Web Page:
Visa Waiver Program

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010

October 27, 2010

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.

Changes To Visa Waiver Program - DHS Announces Pre-Travel Authorization Program for U.S.-Bound Travelers from Visa Waiver Countries

June 5, 2008

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.

Currently, citizens of VWP countries complete a written I-94W form providing basic biographical, travel, and eligibility information while en-route to the U.S. With ESTA, VWP travelers will provide this information online prior to departure for the U.S.

ESTA will determine if an individual is eligible for VWP travel, and if such travel poses any law enforcement or security risks. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, and once approved, will be valid for multiple entries for up to two years or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever comes first. DHS recommends ESTA applications be submitted as soon as an applicant begins planning U.S.-bound travel, and not less than 72 hours prior to travel.

On Aug. 1, 2008, the department will begin to accept voluntary applications through the ESTA Web site (At the time of writing this entry, the ESTA website was still under construction). More information on ESTA can be found at the CBP Website. .Until ESTA is mandatory for all VWP travelers next year, however, ESTA applicants will also still need to complete an I-94W form en-route. The Secretary of Homeland Security is anticipated to publish a notice in the Federal Register by mid-November 2008, announcing implementation of mandatory ESTA requirements on Jan. 12, 2009.
For DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff’s June 3, 2008 remarks on ESTA please visit the DHS website.