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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Paris Attacks Spur Action on Visa-Waiver Program

(CN) - In the wake of the Paris terror attacks earlier this month, the Obama administration said Monday it will overhaul the program that allows 20 million people to come to the United States annually without a visa.

The visa waiver program allows citizens from 38 "partner countries" around the world to travel to the United States without a visa. These travelers are screened prior to departure, at various points throughout their journey and upon arrival at U.S. ports of entry.

Refugees and permanent legal residents of partner countries are not eligible for visa waivers and must appear in person for a visa interview before being cleared for travel to the United States.

Over the last year, the Obama administration said the Department of Homeland Security has enhanced the waiver program by adding additional fields to its screening application and introducing information-sharing requirements for the partner nations.

But after the terror attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130 and injured more than 350, the Obama administration said it is "aggressively strengthening" the visa waiver program to capture past travel history to nations that are considered terrorist safe havens.

The president also gave Homeland Security 60 days to consult with partner nations on using pilot biometric programs to increase security and to identify any deficiencies in the screening processes of partner nations.

Additionally, the Obama administration tasked the FBI with evaluating terrorism information sharing between the United States and partner nations, and said Homeland Security will assist interested nations with screening refugee and asylum seekers.

The administration said it will also increase fines on airlines that fail to verify travelers' passport data, from $5,000 to $50,000.

Meanwhile, the White House said it is working with Congress to lay down the required statutory framework for the security enhancements where needed - including an acceleration of the requirement that 100 percent of visa-waiver travelers use passports embedded with security chips.

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