DHS Adds Countries to the Visa Waiver Program Travel Restriction

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DHS Adds Countries to the Visa Waiver Program Travel Restriction

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Over the last 15 months, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken significant measures in an effort to protect the United States from the threat of “foreign fighters.” This is according to a press release issued by DHS on February 18, 2016, which announced the continued implementation of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015. The press release also announced the addition of Libya, Somalia and Yemen as countries of concern, the designation of which means that travel under the Visa Waiver Program from these countries will be restricted.

Specifically, this means that individuals who have traveled to any of these three countries since March 1, 2011 will no longer be permitted to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Instead, individuals from these countries who wish to travel to the United States will now need to apply for a visa at U.S. Embassies or Consulates.

Libya, Somalia and Yemen join Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria as countries from which travel on the Visa Waiver Program is now restricted. Currently, the restriction for Libya, Somalia and Yemen does not apply to dual nationals of these countries.

Under this legislation, the Secretary of State does have the authority to grant waivers when it is determined that a waiver of the travel restriction is in the law enforcement or security interest of the United States. The decision on whether to grant a waiver will be made on a case-by-case basis. Some of the grounds for obtaining a waiver of the restriction include:

  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments on officially duty;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of a humanitarian NGO on official duty;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria as a journalist for reporting purposes;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, for legitimate-business related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (July 14, 2015); and
  • Individuals who have traveled to Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes.

The Visa Waiver Program restrictions do not prohibit travel to the United States from these countries and many individuals eligible for travel under the Visa Waiver Program will not be affected. Accordingly, if you or someone you know plans to travel from any of these countries in the near future and you would like to understand more about the process for applying for a visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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