Terrorist Travel Prevention Act Impacts on the Visa Waiver Program

Published on: Jan 23, 2020, Last Edited: Mar 11, 2020 | Tags: Visa Waiver Program, ESTA Eligibility

Introduction

In January 2016, the U.S. government started to implement changes to the Visa Waiver Program through the Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of the previous year. This act aims to exclude citizens of countries deemed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be state sponsors of terrorism, including people from Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. The act was amended in 2018 to include additional countries such as Libya, North Korea, Somalia and Yemen.

Terrorist Travel Prevention Act Impacts on the Visa Waiver Program
Terrorist Travel Prevention Act Impacts on the Visa Waiver Program

Will my previous visits to Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen cause issues with my ESTA application?

The enhanced rules also apply to people who may have traveled to those countries, preventing them from qualifying for the VWP even if they would have otherwise been eligible. The new rules do not prevent traveler from visiting the USA. However, individuals with previous travel history or citizenship of these countries will either be denied an ESTA or have their existing authorizations invalidated. These travelers will then need to apply for a United States visa before entering the United Stat. Some exceptions may apply on a case by case basis, depending on the reason for traveling to the excluded countries.

Which travelers will be affected by the act?

Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, individuals who fall into one of the following criteria are no longer eligible to enter the USA with a visa waiver under the Visa Waiver Program:

  • Citizens of countries who are members of the Visa Waiver Program who may have traveled to or visited Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or at any time after 1st March 2011.
  • Citizens of countries that are members of the Visa Waiver Program who are also citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen.

Are there any exceptions to these restrictions?

The new rules do not apply to those traveling on the VWP who may have been present in the proscribed countries above in order to carry out service in the military forces of a VWP country or to perform official roles as a contracted employee of a country that is a member of the Visa Waiver Program.

People who have traveled to any of the countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen) whether for official or military reasons are recommended to bring all relevant documentation with them when entering the United States through a recognized port of entry. These exceptions to the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act will not apply to people with dual nationality of any of the proscribed countries.

What are the additional questions on the ESTA form?

The questions that were added or modified on the ESTA form are as follows:

  • Have you ever traveled to, or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after 1 March 2011? If so, provide the country, the dates of the visit, as well as a primary reason for the visit such as tourism, family, business, professional exchange program, cultural exchange program, academic reason, official duties, military service, journalism, humanitarian assistance, international or regional organization work, or other reason not listed.
  • Have you ever possessed a passport or national ID card for purposes of travel issued by any other state? If so, you will be requested to provide information on these documents if they are in your possession. This information will include the Issuing Country, Document Type, Document Number and Expiration Year.
  • Are you at present a national or citizen of any other country? If so, you be requested to provide information such as the country of citizenship / nationality and how you acquired the citizenship / nationality.
  • Have you previously been a national or citizen of another country? If so, then you will be requested to provide the country of citizenship / nationality.
  • Are you a member of the CBP Global Entry Program? If so, you will be requested to provide your CBP Global Entry PASSID / Membership Number.
  • Social media information. If you wish, you can provide any social media information associated with your presence online, including the platform and your social media identifier. This field is optional.

What can I do if I have been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after March 1st 2011?

While the new ruling does not prevent these travelers from entering the U.S., travelers will be required to apply for a visa form either a U.S. Embassy or a Consulate. United States embassies and consulates in countries participating in the VWP only have short waiting periods for a visa interview. For more information about applying for a visa, please go to travel.state.gov and to find the address of the U.S. Embassy that has jurisdiction over your country of residence, please visit usembassy.gov

You can request an expedited visa interview appointment if you are obliged to travel imminently for medical, humanitarian or business reasons and your ESTA has been denied or revoked as a result of the new Act.

What are the benefits of applying for a visa over an ESTA?

There are some benefits to a visa over an ESTA: a visa is valid for up to 10 years while ESTA has only 2 years’ validity. A visa also allows you the option of remaining in the U.S. for up to 6 months while the VWP only allows you to remain for 90 days. Travelers with a visa may also request to extend their stay beyond the 6-month period or can apply to change to a different visa class while in the United States; neither option is allowed under the Visa Waiver Program.

Conclusion

The new Act is not expected to affect the vast majority of travelers from VWP countries. Additional countries may be added to the current list at any time by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

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