It remains to be seen whether or not amendments to the USA’s Visa Waiver Program that were attached to the Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama last Friday will be an impediment to inbound travel to the United States, but the provisions were restrictive enough to rile the European Union, whose representatives issued a sharply worded statement/letter criticizing the provisions.
David O’Sullivan, the EU’s ambassador to the U.S., told USA TODAY, “We do worry that the unintended consequence of this legislation is not really to enhance the security guarantees, but to create additional obstacles for ordinary travelers.”
The legislative provisions fall far short of what some Members of Congress called for—temporarily suspending the program, which allows visa-free travel to the USA for up to 90 days from citizens of 38 nations, or restricting entry from some VWP countries—but they do target travelers from certain Middle East countries who want to travel to the United States. Specifically:
- The legislation requires consulate interviews overseas for any citizen of a country where visas aren’t required if the person has traveled since March 2011 to “high risk” countries including Syria, Iraq, Iran or Sudan.
- Interviews would also be required for people with dual-citizenship with one of those countries.
- By April 1, 2016, VWP countries are to use passports with electronic chips to confirm the traveler’s identity. Many nations already do this.
- And in order to avoid being suspended from the program, VWP nations are required to report lost or stolen passports to Interpol within 24 hours, and to screen all travelers against Interpol databases, to avoid being suspended from VWP.
For the past several sessions of Congress, there have been bills introduced that would impose restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program, but they never made it out of committee. Interest was re-kindled, however, following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris attacks and the Dec. 2 shootings in San Bernardino, California.