The White House on 30 November announced changes to the US visa waiver programme that will allow for a tightening of screenings for travelers from 38 countries who can travel to the US without obtaining visas. In a statement, the White House said the new changes come in light of the terrorist attacks in Paris, which left 130 dead and hundreds injured.
The security "enhancements" will allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to gather more information from travelers about past visits to certain countries, such as Syria and Iraq, NBC News reported. The measure would be used to stop terrorists who attempt to use lost or stolen passports to travel to the US.
"Where we have opportunities to make meaningful enhancements we won't hesitate," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Paris for the COP21 talks. "We are clear eyed about the stakes." According to NBC News, the almost 30-year-old visa waiver programme allows nearly 20 million people from 38 countries to travel to the US each year with less rigorous screenings.
The White House also said Homeland Security will also look at pilot programmes for collecting biometrics, such as fingerprints and/or photographs. The department will also work to identify "any countries that are deficient in key areas of cooperation". According to Reuters, the DHS will ask Congress for additional powers, such as the authority to increase fines for air carriers that fail to verify passport data and the ability to require travelers to have passports with embedded security chips.
The new measures also call for the expanded use of "preclearance programme" in foreign airports to allow US border agents to collect and screen biometrics before visa waiver travelers board planes to the US. A fact sheet released by the White House revealed that the DHS's Customs and Border Protection Preclearance programme is in negotiations with airports in Belgium, Japan, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
The White House called on Congress to pass legislation regarding the visa waiver programme before December's holiday recess. "Surely over the course of the next three weeks, they should be able to do something that actually would strengthen our national security," Earnest said. On 30 November, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said a House task force intended to meet on 1 December to discuss the programme and it hopes to pass legislation "by the end of the year".