Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP), and immigration generally, has been a hotly-debated topic for the upcoming Presidential election and has worsened in light of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. The VWP allows certain eligible citizens or nationals from designated countries to travel to the United States without visas in exchange for visa-free travel (for 90 days or less) to those countries by United States citizens. The Department of State administers this program and ensures that applicants undergo many levels of security measures to prevent terrorists, serious criminals, or other potentially dangerous people from entering the United States.
VWP eligible individuals are generally permitted to enter the United States for business or tourism, but are not allowed to study for credit, work, or retain permanent residence. There are also many other requirements. For example, the individual must have authorization to travel without a visa through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a U.S. bound sea or air carrier. In order to get an ESTA, you must submit biographic, travel, and credit card information in advance, and you must have a round trip ticket to prove that you intend to return to your home country, among other requirements.
However, in light of recent events, new restrictions have been proposed on VWP eligibility for certain individuals. For instance, people who have been present in Iraq, Sudan, Iran, Syria, or other countries designated by DHS as supporting terrorism or “of concern” at any time on or after March 1, 2011, are not eligible to participate in the VWP. The new law also excludes from the VWP individuals who are nationals of those designated counties, even if s/he has never resided in that country.
The increased security implementations and restrictions have been a source of great debate by many groups. Some say that the VWP helps drive U.S. economic growth by generating tax revenue and creating jobs, while opponents are extremely concerned about our national safety and think that the restrictions are fair to keep out terrorists and potential dangerous criminals. No matter what side you are on, this is an issue of great debate and the new developments are important for everyone to consider.