Following the recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, the U.S. House of Representatives moved yesterday to restrict travel to the U.S. by passing a bill that would tighten travel restrictions for those entering the country. Currently, a “visa waiver” program is in place that allows citizens of 38 countries to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa. If the bill passes in the Senate, which is very possible, anyone from those 38 countries who has traveled to Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan and any other noted hotspot for terrorism in the past five years will be required to have a visa to enter the U.S. with exceptions for those who had traveled for military or government work.
Approximately 20 million travelers enter the U.S. each year without a visa through the visa waiver program. They are screened through an online Homeland Security system before arrival. The new bill would require that the current visa-waiver participant countries provide “e-passports” with biometric information, like fingerprints, for further security. Countries participating in the waiver program would also be required to share counter-terrorism intelligence with the U.S. as well, or risk being removed from the program.
The bill passed in a rare bi-partisan agreement, 407 to 19. The bill’s approval came just weeks after the House approved a controversial bill restricting entry to many Syrian and Iraqi refugees. The changes are among the most substantial ever made to the 30-year-old visa waiver program, which grants 90-day stays and is credited with bolstering the U.S. tourism industry.