Congress

Hurd urges changes to Visa Waiver Program

Will Hurd

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas)

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a former CIA officer, said the European allies participating in the Visa Waiver Program with the United States are not disclosing full information on travelers.

"Many of them have signed agreements with us saying that they will share terrorist watch-list data," Hurd said in the weekly Republican address on Dec. 12. "We learned that some of them only share the names of convicted terrorists and not the suspects. Some [only] promise to share the names of people traveling to the United States."

Under the Visa Waiver Program, citizens of participating countries can travel to the U.S. without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, as long as they meet all the requirements.

The House recently passed a bill that would strengthen the program by increasing information sharing between the U.S. and the 38 countries that participate. It would require that countries share biometric data from passports, and it would bar Syrian and Iraqi citizens or anyone who has travelled to those countries since 2011 from participating in the program.

Hurd, who spent nine years as an undercover CIA officer, said the bill would allow the Department of Homeland Security to suspend a country from the program if it does not provide the U.S. with the information needed to track down terrorists. Because the European Union has few internal border checkpoints, it makes the U.S. vulnerable to entry by terrorists via the Visa Waiver Program, he added.

"If we're not careful, it can be a weak spot in our defenses," Hurd said.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has said he hope to have similar legislation incorporated into the omnibus spending bill this year.  And DHS officials say they have been refining the program since 2014 -- but that the agency is looking to Congress for practical help in a number of areas.

About the Author

Aisha Chowdhry is a former staff writer for FCW.


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