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Enhancements to Visa Waiver Program

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On November 30, 2015, The White House published a Fact Sheet detailing new enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).  DHS is immediately taking steps to modify ESTA applications in order to capture data from potential travelers as to any past travel to terrorist safe-haven countries.  The VWP allows travelers from 38 countries to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without first obtaining a visitor’s visa.  Using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pre-screens potential travelers prior to permitting travel under the VWP. 
In addition to the new ESTA fields, DHS will also be reviewing VWP countries in order to identify any countries that are deficient in their current VWP operations.  The President, along with the Directors of the FBI and National Intelligence, as well as the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, will be identifying options to mitigate any deficiencies discovered.  DHS is also working to identify possible pilot programs for the capturing of VWP biometrics (i.e. fingerprints and/or photographs).
The Secretary of Homeland Security is going to work with Congress to possibly increase fines to air carriers that fail to verify traveler passport data.  The fine amount is currently $5,000 and the Secretary is hoping to increase the fine to $50,000.  The Obama administration will work alongside Congress to potentially implement further changes, such as cooperating with Interpol on VWP issues and lost documents, expanding the U.S. Customs and Border Protection preclearance program, and mandating that security chip passports be used by all VWP travelers.
These enhancements come in the wake of the November 2015 terrorist attacks on Paris.
Questions on the VWP program or other immigration issues? Contact our office today for assistance.  Immigration is all we do!
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