Changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

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.

Background:
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

Congress.gov, Web Page (Text):
H.R.2029 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016

mercurynewsdaily.com, 12/18/15, News Article:
House Tightens Visa Waiver Program

Related Link:
travel.state.gov, Web Page:
Visa Waiver Program