Electronic passport required for visa program

DHS has added biometric identification requirements to Visa Waiver Program restrictions.

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."

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