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U.S. Sen. Mark Warner cosponsors bipartisan bill to strengthen visa waiver program

mark-warnerU.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined a bipartisan group of 15 senators today in introducing legislation to strengthen the security of the Visa Waiver Program to help prevent terrorists from entering the United States.

Sen. Warner, a member of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, joined Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Dan Coats (R-IN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Angus King (I-ME), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in introducing the bipartisan legislation.

“I first raised concerns one year ago about the holes in our Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of 38 partner countries to enter the U.S. relatively hassle-free, and remain for up to 90 days. Ten million people from those visa waiver countries travel to Turkey every year, the vast majority as tourists, but we know at least some of them have travelled on without getting their passports stamped to train with ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” Sen. Warner said. “Unless we take immediate steps to tighten-up the Visa Waiver Program, these individuals could exploit vulnerabilities and then enter the United States without a visa and do us harm.”

“Our bipartisan legislation strengthens the program by requiring the collection of additional information from travelers before they arrive, and requiring participating countries to share valuable information and intelligence with us. Gaps in the security of the Visa Waiver Program must be addressed as soon as possible,” Sen. Warner said.

Added Sen. Warner, “Last year, more than 20 million travelers to this country – 60 percent of all foreign visitors to the U.S. – entered through the Visa Waiver Program. While here, they generated nearly $200 billion for our economy, supporting nearly 1 million American jobs. Ending this program would be a victory for the terrorists, whose goal is to inflict economic damage and restrict freedom of movement. But Congress can and should act to protect Americans by closing loopholes and strengthening the overall security of the Visa Waiver Program.”

The Visa Waiver Program Security Enhancement Act would improve the security of the Visa Waiver Program by doing the following:

  • Require individuals who have traveled to Syria or Iraq in the past five years to acquire a traditional tourist visa instead of traveling without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. This process requires an in-person interview with an American consular official and the submission of the traveler’s biometric information.
  • Require travelers using the Visa Waiver Program to submit biometric information, in the form of fingerprints and a photograph, before they travel to the United States.
  • Require all visa waiver travelers to use an electronic passport, which are more secure and harder to tamper with.
  • Require increased intelligence-sharing between Visa Waiver Program countries and the United States.
  • Security enhancements in the bill would be paid for by increasing the Visa Waiver traveler fee, which is currently $14. Only $4 supports Visa Waiver Program security. In comparison, the fee for a traditional tourist visa is $160.

To read more about the bill, please click here.