Changes to Visa Waiver Program

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On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed into law H.R. 2029, the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act. Contained within the law are several provisions which make changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), the program by which visitors from designated countries can visit the United States for business or tourism without first obtaining a visa stamp at a U.S. consular post.

The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 is a response to the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, CA, and makes the following changes to the law:

  1. Individuals who have been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan (or other countries designated by the Department of Homeland Security as supporting terrorism or "of concern") at any time on or after March 1, 2011, are not eligible to participate in the VWP. 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 are exempt. 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.
  2. 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.

To participate in the VWP an individual must possess a machine-readable passport at the time of application for admission to the United States.

In addition to the restrictions imposed upon individuals, the new law also includes new conditions for participating countries, including 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.

Please contact Ritter Halliday for additional information or to determine if these changes may affect you in any way.