Press Releases

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner Cosponsors Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen Visa Waiver Program

Requires photos, prints, interviews for those who’ve visited Syria, Iraq

Dec 01 2015

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined a bipartisan group of 15 senators today in introducing legislation to strengthen the security of the Visa Waiver Program to help prevent terrorists from entering the United States.  Sen. Warner, a member of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, joined Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Dan Coats (R-IN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Angus King (I-ME), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in introducing the bipartisan legislation.

“I first raised concerns one year ago about the holes in our Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of 38 partner countries to enter the U.S. relatively hassle-free, and remain for up to 90 days. Ten million people from those visa waiver countries travel to Turkey every year, the vast majority as tourists, but we know at least some of them have travelled on without getting their passports stamped to train with ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” Sen. Warner said. “Unless we take immediate steps to tighten-up the Visa Waiver Program, these individuals could exploit vulnerabilities and then enter the United States without a visa and do us harm.”

“Our bipartisan legislation strengthens the program by requiring the collection of additional information from travelers before they arrive, and requiring participating countries to share valuable information and intelligence with us. Gaps in the security of the Visa Waiver Program must be addressed as soon as possible,” Sen. Warner said.

Added Sen. Warner, “Last year, more than 20 million travelers to this country – 60 percent of all foreign visitors to the U.S. – entered through the Visa Waiver Program. While here, they generated nearly $200 billion for our economy, supporting nearly 1 million American jobs. Ending this program would be a victory for the terrorists, whose goal is to inflict economic damage and restrict freedom of movement. But Congress can and should act to protect Americans by closing loopholes and strengthening the overall security of the Visa Waiver Program.”

The Visa Waiver Program Security Enhancement Act would improve the security of the Visa Waiver Program by doing the following:

  • Require individuals who have traveled to Syria or Iraq in the past five years to acquire a traditional tourist visa instead of traveling without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. This process requires an in-person interview with an American consular official and the submission of the traveler’s biometric information.
  • Require travelers using the Visa Waiver Program to submit biometric information, in the form of fingerprints and a photograph, before they travel to the United States.
  • Require all visa waiver travelers to use an electronic passport, which are more secure and harder to tamper with.
  • Require increased intelligence-sharing between Visa Waiver Program countries and the United States.
  • Security enhancements in the bill would be paid for by increasing the Visa Waiver traveler fee, which is currently $14. Only $4 supports Visa Waiver Program security. In comparison, the fee for a traditional tourist visa is $160.

            The bill would strengthen the Visa Waiver Program in the following ways:

1. Preventing foreign fighters from using the Visa Waiver Program: An estimated 5,000 European citizens have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight.  More than 1,500 of them are from France. If they return to their home countries, these individuals may be able travel to the United States without a visa.

  • Legislative solution: Require individuals who have traveled to Syria and Iraq in the past five years to go through the traditional visa process, which includes an in-person interview, to come to the United States.

2. Requiring additional biometric information: In cases where the foreign national has never been to the United States before, U.S. law enforcement cannot run biometric information from that visa waiver program traveler against key databases in advance of the person’s first arrival in the United States.

  • Legislative solution: Require biometric data to be provided by a foreign national prior to travel to the United States using the Visa Waiver Program.

3. Requiring electronic passports for participation in the Visa Waiver Program: Although electronic passports with built-in chips carrying biometric data are now required to be issued by Visa Waiver Program countries, some existing designated countries are effectively allowed to phase-in this requirement over several years because older passports can remain valid.

  • Legislative solution: Require all Visa Waiver Program travelers have electronic passports within 90 days of enactment. Only individuals with machine-readable passports may travel using the Visa Waiver Program.

4. Requiring additional information sharing between countries:  Information-sharing with the United States is a means of protecting national security while allowing individuals to travel without a visa. Unfortunately, while partnership agreements have been struck with participating VWP countries, their implementation has not been uniform. Information-sharing must be improved to ensure threats are detected.

  • Legislative solution: Improve information sharing by participating countries in the following ways:
  • Require participation in the Visa Waiver Program be contingent on countries’ full implementation of information-sharing agreements, including agreements on foreign terrorists and those who have committed crimes.
  • Increase contribution to, and screening against, INTERPOL’s lost and stolen documents database.
  • Require DHS to consider a country’s ability to collect, analyze and share passenger data concerning dangerous individuals.
  • Improve biometric information sharing about, and screening of, refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Require DHS to consider a country’s ability to share information about foreign fighters with multiple countries and multilateral organizations, like INTERPOL.

5. Increasing security in the air: All Visa Waiver Program countries should have signed federal air marshal agreements, which provide legal protection to air marshals in situations where they need to take action.

  • Legislative solution: Require completion of a federal air marshal agreement.


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