The Obama administration announced Monday it was taking steps to crack down on security shortcomings in the visa waiver program that allows visitors from 38 countries around the world to come to the U.S. with ease.
While much of the American political scrutiny after the Paris terrorist attacks has revolved around the dangers of admitting Syrian refugees, many of the attackers in Paris were citizens of Western countries who would have been eligible to travel to the U.S. without much scrutiny. Refugees, meanwhile, undergo a rigorous background check process that can take up to two years. Democrats in Congress tried to refocus legislative changes from barring refugees to increasing scrutiny on the visa waiver program.
Under its new guidance, the White House is demanding a comprehensive review of its visa waiver program and urging partnering countries to do their part in sharing information about potential threats with the U.S.
Twenty million travelers a year come to the U.S. through the program. Under new requirements, travelers applying for the waivers must disclose “any past travel to countries constituting a terrorist safe haven.” The Department of Homeland Security has also been instructed to help visa waiver program countries screen asylum seekers and refugees.
DHS will also begin looking for “possible pilot programs designed to assess the collection and use of biometrics (fingerprints and/or photographs)” to boost security.
The Obama administration is not acting alone, however. It is also asking Congress to play its part. The administration requested that Congress give it permission to impose stricter financial penalties from $5,000 to $50,000 on airlines who fail to ensure traveler passport information is legitimate.