GBTA has been closely following developments with the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) as steps have been taken to continue to strengthen this important security program. The VWP is a critically important element in America’s efforts to protect our homeland. Since its inception in 1986, it has evolved into a comprehensive security partnership with our closest allies and prevents tens of thousands of unauthorized visitors from entering our country every year.
Yesterday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced additional enhancements to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), as part of the continued implementation of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act).
As a result of the law, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):
- Nationals of VWP countries who have been present in Iraq, Syria, or countries listed under specified designation lists (currently including Iran and Sudan) at any time on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited government/military exceptions).
- Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan.
As part of the implementation, as of today an updated ESTA application form is now available. The new form contains additional questions to address the travel eligibility requirements called for in the Act as well as a FAQ for who is effected and what steps said people should take.
According to reports, DHS continues to review the security of the Visa Waiver Program, the threat environment, and potential vulnerabilities. These recent measures are the latest in a series of actions over the past 15 months to strengthen the security of the VWP and ensure the Program’s requirements are commensurate with the growing threat from foreign terrorist fighters, many of whom are nationals of VWP countries. And the new issuance stresses that Individuals will still be able to apply for a visa using the regular immigration process at U.S. embassies or consulates.
Current ESTA holders should check their ESTA status prior to travel on CBP’s website, esta.cbp.dhs.gov. If a traveler needs to speak to someone immediately, they may contact the CBP information Center, www.cbp.gov/contact or their closest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Information on visa applications can be found at travel.state.gov.