Latta Votes to Strengthen Visa Waiver Program, Protect National Security
Congressman Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) today voted in support of H.R. 158, the Visa Waiver Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act. The bill, cosponsored by Latta, was written to assist the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identify and stop terrorists with Western passports from entering the United States.
“The first responsibility of our Federal Government is to keep Americans safe. It is imperative we take measures to prevent Americans from being placed in harm’s way, and addressing the vulnerabilities in our Visa Waiver Program is one of these measures,” said Latta. “ISIS has made it clear they intend to continue to target the United States and other Western countries. As the 9/11 Commission noted; ‘for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.’ With terrorist organizations like ISIS recruiting from around the world, this bill improves American security by denying the ability for those who pose a risk to this country to enter our borders.”
Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate worked to tighten the program, which currently allows foreign citizens of 38 countries to enter the U.S. for as long as 90 days without a visa, and is used by over 20 million people per year.
“This legislation has broad, bipartisan support because it strengthens the waiver program, and provides an additional level of security by mandating sharing of terrorism and foreign traveler data. This is an important step in reducing the risk of a future terrorist attack on American soil.”
Key provisions of the Visa Waiver Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act:
• Requires countries participating in our Visa Waiver Program to continually share terrorism and foreign traveler data with the United States and requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend their participation if they do not meet this requirement. (Currently, the Secretary can only suspend VWP participation for imminent national security threats.)
• Requires countries participating in our Visa Waiver Program to utilize INTERPOL’s criminal and law enforcement databases by requiring countries to report lost and stolen passports within 24 hours and screen all passengers against all INTERPOL databases and notices, and requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend their participation if they do not meet this INTERPOL requirement. (Currently, with respect to INTERPOL, the Secretary can only suspend a country’s participation if they are not sharing lost and stolen passport data with INTERPOL or in emergency situations.)
• Requires all Visa Waiver Program travelers to use Electronic Passports or “e-passports” with biometric enabled chips by April 1, 2016. Furthermore, VWP countries will be required to have in place mechanisms to validate e-passports. (Currently, Visa Waiver Program countries issue e-passports, but not all eligible travelers hold an e-passport.)
• Directs DHS to report to Congress, within 30 days, on steps to strengthen Electronic System for Travel Authorization in order to better secure the United States and prevent terrorists from exploiting the Visa Waiver Program.
• Requires dual nationals and individuals who have traveled since March 1, 2011 to certain countries of concern and State Sponsors of Terrorism – including Syria, Iraq, and Iran – to obtain a visa before coming to the United States.
• Requires an annual national security threat assessment for “high-risk” countries and allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend a country’s participation if it is deemed “high-risk.”