Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced yesterday that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will begin implementing a number of security changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which enables international travelers from approved countries to enter the United States without a visa.
"The current global threat environment requires that we know more about those who travel to the United States. This includes those from countries for which we do not require a visa. Additionally, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178, adopted last September with our strong support, urges member nations to do more to address the growing threat of foreign terrorist fighters," Johnson said in a statement. "Today the U.S. government is taking a significant step toward these objectives."
The planned security changes, which will apply to both new and current VWP members, include:
• Required use of e-passports for all VWP travelers coming to the United States,
• Required use of the INTERPOL Lost and Stolen Passport Database to screen travelers crossing a VWP country's borders.
• Permission for expanded use of U.S. federal air marshals on international flights to the United States from VWP countries.
"The security enhancements we announce today are part of this department's continuing assessments of our homeland security in the face of evolving threats and challenges, and our determination to stay one step ahead of those threats and challenges," Johnson continued. "It is our considered judgment that the security enhancements we announce today will not hinder lawful trade and travel with our partners in the Visa Waiver Program. These measures will enhance security for all concerned."
In a statement published yesterday, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow voiced his support for most of the new measures, but expressed skepticism about others.
"This slate of policy adjustments are a reminder that the VWP is first and foremost a security instrument, and that an already-successful program can and should continue to evolve to make the country even stronger," he said. "The majority of the provisions in this policy package, including those emphasized by Secretary Johnson regarding passport security and air marshals on incoming overseas flights, align perfectly with VWP's core purpose and will clearly bolster national security. We will continue to evaluate other measures -- such as those seeking the development of passenger record databases and the screening of asylum-seekers -- to see that they fit as squarely under the umbrella of VWP's mission, desirable though they may be from a national-security standpoint."