The United States is expanding the requirements for dozens of countries taking part in the Visa Waiver Program, demanding that the countries check traveler information against U.S. counterterrorism information.
Trump administration officials said Friday that the countries will have to use U.S. information to screen travelers crossing their borders from third countries. Many countries in the program already do that, one administration official said.
The changes also affect VWP countries that have higher rates of citizens overstaying their visas to the U.S.
If more than 2 percent of a country’s visitors stay beyond the expiration of their visa, that country will be required to carry out a public information campaign aimed at reducing those overstay violations, the Department of Homeland Security announced.
In the 2016 fiscal year, four of the VWP countries —Greece, Hungary, Portugal, and San Marino, a wealthy enclave landlocked inside central Italy — had overstay rates higher than 2 percent, according to a DHS report.
The Visa Waiver Program permits citizens of 38 countries, mostly in Europe, to travel to the United States for business or tourism for up to 90 days without a visa.
President Donald Trump has sought to tighten the rules for those seeking to visit or live in the United States in several ways, saying restrictions are necessary for security reasons. The newly-confirmed Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, attributed the changes to anti-terrorism efforts.
“The United States faces an adaptive and agile enemy, as terrorists continue to explore ways to reach our country and to direct, enable, and inspire attacks against us. … These enhancements will strengthen the program, and they are part of our continued efforts to raise the baseline for homeland security across the board,” Nielsen said, via an emailed DHS statement announcing the modifications.
VWP and terror attacks
In a review of terror attacks on the U.S. from 1975 to 2015, a researcher for the Cato Institute found zero deaths attributable to people in the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program.
The same report found three people out of nearly 400 million visitors under the VWP during that time committed non-lethal acts of terror.
“That makes the VWP the safest visa category,” the report’s author concluded.
The three incidents involving visitors on VWP were:
• French national Zacarias Moussaoui, who was originally part of the 9/11 conspiracy but was in jail on immigration charges during the attacks;
• British national bomber Richard Reid, who tried but failed to light explosives hidden in his shoe during a transatlantic flight to the United States;
• British national Qaisar Shaffi, who was convicted in 2007 for his role in a foiled terror plot on financial landmarks in New York City.
The VWP changes will apply to all countries in the program.
Material from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.