Last updated: 03:50 PM ET, Thu November 19 2015

Travel Industry Looking to Block Restrictions on Visa Waiver Program

Impacting Travel | Donald Wood | November 19, 2015

Travel Industry Looking to Block Restrictions on Visa Waiver Program

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Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, the United States Congress is considering legislation that would limit America’s current Visa Waiver Program.

Now, the U.S. travel industry is doing everything it can to oppose any bills restricting visa waiver access, citing negative potential impact on business and tourist travel, according to Catherine Ho of The Washington Post.

Coming to the aid of people who use the Visa Waiver Program is the U.S. Travel Association, which states it is imperative not to block the citizens from the 38 countries which qualify for the system. Eligible travelers from approved countries can stay in this United States for up to 90 days without a tourist visa.

The problem for the tourism industry now is that the revisions are gaining bipartisan support in congress, as Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation Thursday that will put new restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program.

Part of the proposed change to the current program includes not issuing visa waivers for people who have traveled to Syria or Iraq in the last five years, and a new proposal from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would include a 30-day waiting period for people using the system.

The U.S. Travel Association Vice President of Public Affairs Jonathan Grella told The Washington Post that the purpose of the program was to make travel more efficient for citizens from countries approved in the system. The feeling from the travel industry is that Paul’s proposal would undermine the Visa Waiver Program.

The current Visa Waiver Program — passed in 1986 — allows about 20 million travelers to visit the United States annually, many of whom are business travelers flying overseas for a short business-related stay.

Paul’s proposal also includes a provision that would suspend visas to refugees from up to 30 countries — including Syria and Iraq — until they have gone through a thorough examination of their background and activities.

Currently, all travelers must clear the Customs and Border Protection’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization without being listed as a security risk. Those who are flagged by the system must apply for a visa and be interviewed and fingerprinted by officials with the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Grella went on to tell The Washington Post, “We will be redoubling our efforts to educate lawmakers about VWP and its benefits. We have made contact with various offices that are talking about doing something. We’re making plans on who’s going to quarterback various outreach. It enables countries to share intelligence and have the ability to identify problems before they materialize, and work together to make travel safer. The whole point of it is that these alliances make everyone stronger rather than every country having to solve the security problem alone.”


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