Digital Gov

Electronic passport required for visa program

Global Data (Shutterstock)

Travelers seeking to enter the U.S. via the Visa Waiver Program now must have an electronic passport that provides access to a digitized photo and digital copies of the biographical information printed on the document.

The tightened security follows new restrictions on the program that bar travelers who have been in Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on or after March 11, 2011, from being admitted to the U.S. under the program.

Citizens of the 38 countries that participate in VWP can travel to the U.S. without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, as long as they meet all security and documentation requirements.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris last year, however, federal and state officials expressed concern about the U.S. admitting people fleeing the years-long civil war in Syria without conducting thorough background checks.

In December, lawmakers passed the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, which made travelers who have visited certain countries no longer eligible for the program beginning Jan. 21.

In an April 1 statement, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said VWP travelers from participating countries are now required to have an e-Passport, which has an embedded electronic chip. Travelers who do not have an e-Passport must obtain a visa to come to the U.S., he added.

In an April 3 statement, the sponsor of the VWP improvement act, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), said the e-Passport requirement will help identify people and improve safety, but she said more must be done to tackle visa-related issues.

"My legislation addressed vulnerabilities within the Visa Waiver Program," she said. "However, we must also look at our visa program in its entirety to identify security weaknesses, including those with student and fiancé visas and visa overstays."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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