The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun implementing changes to its visa policies that will make it harder for some travelers to enter the country under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This essentially means that the nationals of certain countries are no longer eligible to enter the United States under the VWP, with particular focus on their recent travel histories.
The VWP allows eligible nationals of 38 countries to travel temporarily, for up to 90 days, to the United States without having to procure a visa. Effective January 21, 2016, changes based on the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 require certain nationals of VWP countries to utilize the normal immigration process and apply for a visa at a United States embassy or consulate.
Affected persons are nationals of VWP countries who have visited Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen on or after March 1, 2011, with the exception of those who traveled for military, journalistic, or diplomatic purposes. Also affected are nationals of the VWP countries who have dual citizenship from any of these four countries. Under these changes, a traveler’s currently valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will be revoked if he or she has previously indicated holding dual nationality with one of these four countries on his or her ESTA application.
An updated ESTA application with additional questions is scheduled to be released in late February 2016 to address exceptions for diplomatic- and military-related travel provided for in the Act. The American Civil Liberties Union has called for exceptions to be made for those who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for educational and professional purposes, including humanitarian aid workers. There are particular concerns about employees from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) and some suggestion that these changes would limit the work of international humanitarians who are on the ground in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen, providing lifesaving assistance.
New Jersey Immigration Lawyer, Edward Shulman, of the Shulman Law Group, LLC encourages individuals and families of individuals from the seven targeted countries to contact our immigration law office to discuss the new VWP changes and to explore alternative ways to apply for visas to come to the United States lawfully.