Skift Take

The Schengen Area in Europe has led to reduced security at national borders, due to de-centralized border controls. The Visa Waiver Program in the U.S. is completely different-- and already leads foreign countries to increase their border security to meet America's high standards.

A group of U.S. senators are planning to introduce legislation eliminating the U.S. Visa Waiver Program for anyone who has visited Syria or Iraq in the last five years.

The tweaked program would also require all foreign visitors to have biometric information embedded in their passports with an e-chip.

Sen. Diane Feinstein called the Visa Waiver Program “the soft underbelly of our national security policies” during a Thursday press conference. She also called the idea of restricting travel to the U.S. for travelers who have been in the Middle East “common sense.”

“Terrorists could exploit the visa waiver program,” she said, by traveling to Syria, then to America through visa waiver countries in the European Union. She didn’t cite any known examples of this happening, however. About 20 million visitors are currently approved by the Visa Waiver Program each year.

Visa Waiver restrictions will be added to the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015 sometime after Thanksgiving. The U.S. Travel Association aired its opposition earlier this week to calls for more restrictive visa policies in the wake of the Paris attacks.

“Anyone who traveled to Syria or Iraq in the last five years cannot travel to the U.S. using the visa waiver program,” Feinstein said, describing the new legislation. “They can still visit, but they need a traditional visa, a process that includes an in-person interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate.”

These travelers would also have to be fingerprinted and photographed, which is not standard procedure during the visa application process. This alternate database of personal information would then be checked by customs officials, to ensure suspect travelers aren’t using someone else’s passport.

“The bill would require all individuals using the Visa Waiver Program to have a passport with an e-chip to store biometric data,” she said. “This e-chip is more secure and harder to tamper with and contains an individual’s biometric information.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer also spoke in support of making the Visa Program Waiver more severe in the wake of last week’s Paris attacks.

“The recent attack in Paris was an attack on free peoples everywhere, and the U.S. must make sure that terrorists cannot enter this country or purchase firearms and explosions,” said Schumer. “Congress should immediately take action to guard against terrorists sneaking in through the Visa Waiver Program… I will be urging my colleagues to start focusing on the real solutions to the dangers posed by ISIS.”


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Tags: visa waiver

Photo credit: A screen capture from Sen. Diane Feinstein's press conference on Thursday. YouTube

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