The U.S. travel industry has worked very hard in the last few years to help loosen these visa restrictions and will be seething after hearing these remarks from senators, but can do little in face of safety-above-everything strategy the U.S. has followed since 2001.
In what could be a huge blow to American tourism economy, the still-nascent visa-waiver program — that helps travelers from 38 countries to travel to the U.S. visa-free for fewer than 90 days — may come under increasing scrutiny and could potentially be dialed back, following increasing terrorist threats and latest attacks in Paris.
Speaking this weekend on CNN, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat and former Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman said that this program is “the Achilles heel of America” and said this is not a new issue for her. She has been critical of the program since Bush administration expanded program back in 2006-2007.
On CNN this weekend, she laid into the program again: “They can come back from training, they go through a visa waiver country, and they come into this country. There are no-fly lists, there are terrorist lists, but they are in the tens of thousands and even millions. So it is difficult to ferret someone out. There are stolen travel documents, a large number of them, that they can pick up a false passport etc. We have a big problem here. We need to take a look at the visa-waiver program again and see what we can do to prevent this kind of thing from happening. I believe it will happen, if it hasn’t already,” she ended ominously.
The video clip of her remarks, below:
Meanwhile, other more hawkish members of our Congress have already latched on to the program and need to dial it back, especially for European citizens. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), have talked out against the waiver on their respective appearances on Fox News last week. Ironically, Rep. King himself has been condemned by the Irish government as a supporter of terrorism by the IRA.
Below are the 38 countries that qualify for visa-waiver. Many of these countries are the big European countries that drive millions of visitors to U.S., including France, Germany and United Kingdom.
If European panic over their own radicalized citizens increases this year, then it will surely create a lot more incentive to rethink the visa-waiver program here in United States.
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Photo credit: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and former Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, on CNN today. CNN