The United States on Thursday began implementing restrictions to its Visa Waiver Program under a law passed after last year’s attacks in Paris, making it harder for citizens of European Union countries to visit in some cases.
Several of the terrorists who killed 130 people in the French capital held European passports that would have allowed them to easily enter the United States under the former system. The series of attacks in and near Paris on November 13, 2015 were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.
The new travel rules are designed to keep Europeans who have fought for the IS group (sometimes referred to as ISIS or Daesh) from entering the US, by putting stricter limits on who can travel to the US without a visa.
Citizens of the 38 countries in the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) were previously able to travel to the US for up to 90 days without a visa but must now obtain one if they have visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria since March 1, 2011.
They must also obtain a visa if they are dual Iranian, Iraqi, Sudanese or Syrian nationals, the US State Department said.
Citizens from the 38 waiver program nations, most of which are in Europe, are currently required to submit biographical information to obtain a travel authorisation through the so-called Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before coming to the US.
The State Department nevertheless noted that under the new law the US secretary of homeland security has the authority to issue waivers to the restrictions on law enforcement or national security grounds.
People who could be eligible for a waiver include those who visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of international organisations or humanitarian groups, or journalists who carried out reporting in the four countries.
They may also include people who traveled for legitimate business reasons to Iraq or to Iran following the July 14, 2015 nuclear agreement.
Last week BBC journalist Rana Rahimpour was stopped from boarding a US-bound plane in London’s Heathrow airport because of her dual British-Iranian nationality.
Rahimpour, a presenter for the BBC’s London-based Persian service, was told by US authorities she could no longer fly to the US under the Visa Waiver Program because of her Iranian citizenship.
Ironically, she has been unable to visit Iran for the past seven years because of her work for BBC’s Persian service, The Guardian reported.
The move quickly angered Republican lawmakers who accused the administration of circumventing the will of Congress.
“The Obama administration is blatantly breaking the law, a law the president himself signed,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul. “This is not a difference of opinion over statutory interpretation, it is a clear contradiction of the law and the agreement we reached with the White House. President Obama is again putting his relationship with Iran’s supreme leader over the security of Americans.”
McCaul said the exemptions announced by the administration were already rejected by Congress. He added that he and his colleagues “will respond and are reviewing our options.”
Americans may also end up affected by the new rule, if Europe introduces reciprocal action against US citizens.
Senator Dick Durbin, a top Democrat, said Thursday that the visa waiver program should be reformed, but “singling people out because of their national origin is fundamentally at odds with American values and invites discrimination against American citizens who are dual nationals.”
The new limits only affect a minority of Europeans, but it has prompted great concern in countries whose citizens generally enjoy visa-free travel to the United States.
The Visa Waiver Program nations are Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and United Kingdom.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2016-01-22