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New Law Mandates Changes to Visa Waiver System

Izzedine (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsIn order for an individual who is not a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States to enter this country, they must possess a valid immigrant or nonimmigrant visa. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allows people from certain countries, however, to enter the U.S. for a limited time, and for limited purposes, under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Anyone wanting to enter the U.S. under the VWP must be otherwise admissible, and the government may still deny them entry for various reasons. The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, which was originally a separate bill but was then added to an appropriations bill, took effect in January 2016. Pub. L. 114-113, Div. O, § 201 et seq. The new law restricts people from entering the country through the VWP if they have recently visited certain other countries, purportedly based on national security concerns.

Under the VWP, nationals of specified countries are exempt from the usual requirement of a nonimmigrant visa or other document authorizing entry into the U.S., provided they are seeking admission as a tourist for no more than 90 days. 8 U.S.C. §§ 1187, 1182(a)(7)(B)(i)(II). The federal government designates specific countries for the VWP, usually based on a reciprocity agreement under which U.S. nationals can enter that country without a visa. According to the U.S. Department of State, 38 countries currently participate in the VWP. Most of these countries are in Europe. The list also includes one South American country (Chile); five Asian countries (Brunei, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan); and two countries in Oceania (Australia and New Zealand).

The new bill, which became law in December 2015 and took effect a month later, makes several modifications to the VWP. It amends the passport requirements to allow both machine-readable and electronic passports, effective April 1, 2016. It also requires VWP countries that issue electronic passports to certify that they have adequate means to validate these passports by October 1. The most notable features of the new law, however, deal with national security issues.

The new law states that individuals from certain VWP countries may be barred from entering the U.S. on a visa waiver if they are nationals of Iraq, Syria, or another country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, or if, since March 1, 2011, they have traveled to any of those countries. This does not necessarily mean that they are denied entry. They may still be able to enter the U.S. by applying for a B-2 tourist visa. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can designate VWP countries as “high risk program countries” based on various factors, including the number of people deemed inadmissible through the VWP under these provisions.

Immigration attorney Samuel C. Berger practices in the New York City and Northern New Jersey areas. We represent individuals who wish to immigrate to this area or have made their home in this region, as well as businesses and families petitioning to bring an employee or a loved one here. Contact us online, at (201) 587-1500, or at (212) 380-8117 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced advocate for immigrants’ rights.

More Blog Posts:

Proposed Regulations Would Clarify Rules Regarding Employment-Based Immigrant Visas, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, January 28, 2016

New Jersey Supreme Court Rules on Role of State Courts in Special Immigrant Juvenile Cases, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, September 24, 2015

Immigration News Affecting New Jersey in April 2015, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, April 8, 2015

Photo credit: Izzedine (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.