GBTA Supports DHS Call to Strengthen Visa Waiver Program

Yesterday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a statement saying Congress can help strengthen the Visa Waiver Program by codifying into law recent enhancements already made to the program and by fully funding the Obama administration’s budget request for aviation security.

To be a viable economic driver, travel must first and foremost be safe and secure. Programs like the Visa Waiver Program make travel safer and increase information-sharing among countries. GBTA supports DHS in its efforts to work with Congress to strengthen and put into law existing enhancements that add layers of security to the Visa Waiver Program.

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In the wake of the recent terror attacks, we need programs like this now more than ever. Risk-based security programs like the Visa Waiver Program, Global Entry or TSA’s PreCheck allow governments to focus their limited resources on the people we don’t know while safely facilitating travel more efficiently for those who have passed stringent background checks.

Here are some facts about the Visa Waiver Program:

  • Security is, and always has been, paramount and the Visa Waiver Program is a pivotal contributor to national security.
  • This program protects the American homeland through individualized pre-screening of travelers, greater information sharing, enhanced international partnerships with law enforcement and intelligence services and more secure passports for participating countries.
  • No Visa Waiver Program traveler may be admitted to the United States until all security checks are completed, including checks conducted on all travelers, regardless of a visa or an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
  • ESTA is a robust security measure in itself. Before an ESTA is approved, it is checked against multiple national security and law enforcement databases and INTERPOL’s international databases.
  • According to the DHS, since ESTA’s inception in 2008, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has denied nearly 6,000 ESTA applications as a result of vetting against the U.S. government’s known and suspected terrorist watch list. During the same period of time, CBP denied more than 165,000 ESTA applications submitted by individuals with passports reported as lost or stolen. Just this Fiscal Year, since October 1, 2015, 227 ESTA applicants have been denied as result of security concerns.
  • DHS continuously works to improve and enhance the security of the Visa Waiver Program. Last year DHS announced additional data fields required for the ESTA. This summer more new requirements were put into place requiring participating countries to use electronic passports for all travelers flying to the United States, to use the INTERPOL lost and stolen passport database to screen travelers crossing the borders of any Visa Waiver country and to allow more U.S. federal air marshals on international flights to the United States.

Tell your Congressional leaders that we, as a country, should continue to champion policies such as the VWP that keep travel safe and secure.