US To Restrict Travel By Foreigners Who Visited Iraq, Syria
The House on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to restrict travel on foreigners who have visited Iraq and Syria, a direct response to recent Isis-related attacks in France and the U.S.
At issue is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows citizens from 38 countries to freely travel in the United States without having a visa. Under H.R. 158, foreigners who have traveled to Iraq, Syria, or “any other country or area of concern” designated by the Secretary of State or DHS, since March 2011, would first have to have a visa before entering the U.S.
The U.S. government also could suspend from the program any country that failed to provide terrorism-related information to the U.S. in a timely manner. Travelers would also have to have passports, like those issued in the U.S., that contain biometric and other data to make them fraud-resistant.
The Visa Waiver Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, passed by 407-19 on December 8. It is expected to be wrapped into a must-pass spending bill and become law by year’s end. The legislation also has support from the Obama administration, which on November 30 ordered changes to the government program waiving visa requirements for some foreigners to ease travel to the United States.
“We live in a free and open society,” said Rep. Candice Miller (R., Mich.), author of the measure. “But you have the enemies of freedom who are using our freedoms against us. We have to think clearly about what we can do to mitigate any vulnerability that we have.”
Rep. Brad Sherman (D., Calif.) said the bill was not enough and that Congress might have to tighten the visa-waiver program further. The new restrictions would be “mostly evadable,” he said, because most foreign fighters enter Syria through Turkey, where their passports are stamped. He also said that European nations would be unlikely to share with the U.S. large lists of citizens who had traveled to Iran or Syria because of their own privacy rules.
Besides restricting participation in the visa-waiver program, lawmakers are also contemplating whether to require new preclearance procedures in a traveler’s country of origin. Also under scrutiny is the practice of staying in the U.S. beyond the period permitted by a visa, and the visa program through which Tashfeen Malik, the Pakistani national who, with her husband, shot county workers last week in San Bernardino, entered the country