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Changes to the Visa Waiver Program

Over the past year, a number of changes have been made to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in effort to enhance security measures with the VWP – pursuant to which approximately 20 million visitors enjoy visa free travel to the United States. Earlier this week, the administration announced additional actions relating to the VWP in the wake of the recent attacks in Paris. Among the announced actions are the following:

  • ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) applications will capture information regarding previous travel to “terrorist safe haven” destinations.
  • A review process that will assess possible pilot programs for the collection of biometrics (fingerprints) from VWP visitors and review compliance criteria for VWP partner countries.
  • The FBI will evaluate the sharing of terrorism information between VWP partner countries and the United States – in an effort to mitigate any deficiencies.
  • The Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and Commerce Department will promote the Global Entry program among VWP partner countries.
  • Assistance will be provided to VWP partners to screen refugees and asylum seekers.

In addition, the administration will work with Congress to provide statutory authority for security enhancements to the Visa waiver program including mandatory use of e-passports and use of biometrics.

Many clients have frequent visitors from VWP partner countries. While the announced changes should have little immediate effect on the entry process under the VWP, further changes are almost certain. If you have questions about how these changes may affect your employees or business visitors, please contact our Immigration Law group.

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