US House passed Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015

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Who: Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015
What: Passed by US House of Representatives
When: 8 December 2015

US House of Representatives on 8 December 2015 passed the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015. It amends the United States’ visa travel practices.

The lawmakers voted 407 to 19 in support of the Bill that seeks to impose restrictions on people who have visited Iraq, Syria and countries listed as supporting terrorism to travel visa-free to the United States.

Highlights of the Act
• The Bill would bar people who traveled after 1 March 2011 to Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan from participating in the visa-free program.
• Those changes include requiring countries in the visa waiver program to share counter-terrorism information with the US, and issue e-passports with biometric information.
• The bill also mandates travelers to be checked against Interpol databases.
• Its passage requires US security agencies conduct more frequent assessments of visa waiver countries to determine whether they pose a high risk to US security, and if so they could be suspended from the program.

After passage from the House of Representatives, the Act needs its passage from Senate and approval from the President Barack Obama.

US officials say about 5000 Europeans (including Visa Waiver Program nation) have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight with extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and pose an enhanced risk to the United States.

The proposed Bill also contains provisions under which US can remove countries from the visa waiver program if they do not cooperate with law enforcement and the intelligence community.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is available to citizens of 38 countries, largely US allies and relatively stable developed democracies. The program facilitates citizens of these countries to travel to the US for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa from an embassy or consulate.

According to reports, around 20 million visitors annually visit US on the Visa Waiver Program.