United States seeks to tighten visa waiver programme

United States seeks to tighten visa waiver programme

Officials in the United States have revealed plans to tighten travel restrictions for visitors using the visa waiver programme.

Approximately 20 million people from 38 countries presently enter America each year under the visa waiver programme, which allows travel without needing full visas.

The scheme has come under increased scrutiny since terrorist attacks in Paris last month; with lawmakers questioning with militants could get into the US.

Under proposed changes presently submitted to Congress, all countries enrolled in the scheme would be asked to issue “e-passports”.

Registrations for these new documents would come under greater scrutiny from US agencies.

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Travellers would also be screened to see if they had travelled to militant-held areas.

The Department of Homeland Security will also ask Congress for additional powers, including increase fines for airlines that fail to verify passport data.

US secretary for homeland security Jeh Johnson explained: “The Visa Waiver Program is a valuable tool to promote lawful trade and travel with our best foreign allies.

“But, as many have noted, ISIL’s force consists of foreign terrorist fighters, including thousands from countries in the Visa Waiver Program.

“It is for this reason principally that I directed a series of security enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program which began in November 2014.

“In August 2015, I announced a series of further security enhancements to the program. These included requirements for E-Passports, the use of Interpol’s screening capabilities, and more robust implementation of the information sharing agreements required under the Visa Waiver Program.

“We support legislation to give these enhancements the force of law.”

The programme currently allows people from designated countries to visit the US for 90-day stays without getting a visa.

Several of the suspected perpetrators of the Paris terror attacks were from Belgium and France, which are countries on the list.

At the same time secretary Johnson asked Congress to support moves to expand US “preclearance” capability at overseas airports.

He added: “This means deploying our US Customs officials to foreign airports with direct flights to the United States, to screen passengers bound for the US before they arrive on US soil.

“So far, we’ve established this preclearance capability at 15 airports worldwide, and it has proven very effective in denying boarding to suspicious individuals.

“We need to build more of these.”