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DHS Announces Enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program

Maria del Carmen Ramos

Maria del Carmen Ramos

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that certain refinements to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) would be taking effect immediately.

Designed to support U.S. tourism and trade, public diplomacy, and national security, the VWP allows citizens (or nationals) of participating countries to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less as long as certain requirements are met. In exchange, the participating countries reciprocate the same travel privileges granted to their citizens or nationals to U.S. residents traveling to their country.

In addition to having to comply with VWP requirements, foreign travelers headed to the U.S. from a VWP country are subjected to enhanced screening and security procedures. For example, travelers are required to be pre-screened through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). ESTA then checks various databases for information about the traveler’s eligibility to enter into the U.S. and whether he or she is a known security risk. Additionally, at every step along the journey, travelers are continuously checked against databases and the most current available information. Upon arriving in the United States, individual biographic and biometric information is checked against biometric databases controlled by DHS and the FBI. At this point in the process, U.S. officials can prevent individuals deemed to be a security risk from entering into the country.

Moreover, according to the new changes implemented, individuals traveling to the United States from any countries participating in the VWP are required to provide additional information, such as additional passport information, contact information, and other potential names or aliases, in the travel applications submitted via ESTA. These enhancement measures are expected to increase the program’s security and help alleviate the concerns raised by critics about potential terrorists abusing the program to engage in terrorism in the United States.

For more information, please contact Maria del Carmen Ramos at 813.227.2252 or mramos@slk-law.com.

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