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DHS Announces New Visa Waiver Program Restrictions

On February 23, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security announced the addition of Libya, Somalia, and Yemen as countries of concern, which will affect the Visa Waiver Program privileges of certain travelers who have visited these three countries since March 1, 2011.

The announcement follows the Visa Waiver Program changes implemented last month, revoking the Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTAs) from nationals of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries who had traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011, or who are also nationals of any of those four mentioned countries.

While the three newly added countries join Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria as countries of concern, dual nationals of Libya, Somalia, and Yemen are not affected by the VWP restrictions at this time. Only individuals who have traveled to these countries between March 1, 2011 and now are affected by the changes.

These new measures have been implemented as a continuation of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act), efforts of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to uphold its responsibility of keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the United States.

Exceptions

If applied for under the new requirements, a Visa Waiver may be granted on a case-by-case basis for applicants who have traveled to the restricted counties on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments on official duty; on behalf of humanitarian non-governmental organizations on official duty; or as a journalist for reporting purposes.

Additionally, individuals who traveled to Iran after July 14, 2015 or to Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes may be eligible for a waiver.

Affected Individuals May Still Travel to the US

The new law does not ban travel or admission to the United States. Anyone from a VWP country may apply for a visa through the regular immigration process at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, and for emergency situations, appointments and interviews are still available on an expedited basis.

Nationals now ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program as a result of the newly announced restrictions are encouraged to complete a new ESTA form application, which contains additional questions to address travel eligibility requirements called for in the Act.  This form will assist the CBP in its decision to grant a Visa Waiver.

The CBP advises that most VWP travelers will not be affected by the new law and encourages current ESTA holders to confirm their status before traveling at esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

Travelers who have urgent questions or concerns may contact the Customs and Border Protection Information Center at www.cbp.gov/contact, or contact their closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

 

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