Department of Homeland Security Announces Implementation of New Restrictions on Visa Waiver Program

According to a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on February 18, 2016, the list of countries or areas of concern associated with the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) has been expanded to include Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.1  Therefore, a person who is a citizen of a visa waiver country who has traveled to any of these countries since March 1, 2011, will now be required to apply for a visitor visa.  However, a person who is dual citizen of a visa waiver-eligible country and one of the newly added countries or areas of concern may still travel using the VWP.

The VWP, administered pursuant to Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, permits citizens of designated countries to travel to the United States without having to obtain a visitor visa for admission.  The program applies to short, temporary trips to the United States for which a B-1/B-2 visitor visa would otherwise be required.  The period of stay in the United States under the VWP is restricted to 90 days or less. 

The VWP was amended following the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. On December 18, 2015, the President signed into law the “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2015” as part of the year-end spending bill.  Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) had introduced this bill as a standalone measure (H.R. 158), which the House passed by a vote of 407-19.  Among other provisions, this law amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide enhanced security measures for the VWP.

In relevant part, the December 18, 2015, amendments to the VWP included two changes.  First, all travelers using the Visa Waiver Program must now possess a machine-readable passport.  A qualifying passport must be capable of being electronically read, be fraud resistant, and contain required biographic and biometric information.  Second, any person who is a dual citizen of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria and a visa waiver eligible country, or who has traveled to these countries after March 1, 2011, is no longer eligible to travel pursuant to the VWP.  Instead, the impacted persons must now apply for a visitor visa.

Applications for a visitor visa must be made at a U.S. embassy or consulate prior to any anticipated travel to the U.S.  The Department of Homeland Security encourages anyone impacted by these new restrictions to apply well in advance of any foreseen travel to avoid delays.

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Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.