On Monday, December 7th, the White House announced plans to implement new security measures for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), following the terrorist attacks in Paris last last month. Currently, 38 countries are members of the VWP, which allows nationals from these countries to enter the U.S. as tourists or business visitors without first obtaining a U.S. visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. These travelers undergo screening through an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), and are not subjected to background checks.
With the new security measures, the ESTA system will be modified so that travelers who have traveled to countries considered to be “terrorist safe havens” or conflict zones will be screened and identified, and VWP travelers may be required to use passports with embedded security chips. The White House is also hoping that Congress will allow increased inter-agency cooperation such as increased information sharing between VWP countries and INTERPOL. The Department of Homeland Security is expected to provide President Obama with recommendations for security enhancements and inter-agency cooperation within sixty days. Should these increased security measures be implemented, VWP travelers should expect to experience additional screening during their ESTA applications, and longer processing times.