Published On: Fri, Sep 11th, 2015

USA Announces Stricter Controls On Visa Waiver Program

The USA has announced this month that it is tightening the reigns on its visa waiver program. The move comes as a direct result of increased terrorist threats and security concerns. The US government has taken the decision in the interest of national security of the country and its citizens. As the threat of Isis continues to rage in the Middle East, the White House is concerned about the holes in its visa program. The problem here lies in the fluid nature of 21st-century terrorism. Although Isis, and its viscous counterparts, are based mostly in Syria, Iraq, and some parts of Iran, there are splinter cells everywhere.

Passport USA

The recent, high-profile attacks against tourists in Tunisia has served as a warning. Terrorists are more mobile and splintered than ever. The earlier attack against Charlie Hebdo employees in Paris proved that even the developed world was at risk. The United States is well aware of the risk facing it, with Isis fighters making no secret of their hatred for the country. The USA has, therefore, had no choice but to tighten its screening process yet another step.

The visa waiver program is the first to see strict changes. It is – by far – the easiest way to gain entry into the country, so restrictions here will come as no surprise. The visa waiver program is used almost exclusively by tourists from ‘safe’ countries, or friendly nations. Rather than applying for a full visa, the waiver program requires just a simple application process. Once on US soil, your passport and approved waiver is all you need to get into the country. It has made the tourist process much easier, shortening waiting times at US airports significantly. The program is open to 38 ‘friendly’ countries, allowing a maximum stay of three months. In order to qualify, you provide the Department of Homeland Security with the reasons for your visit. They also ask for your first point of contact, and a US address to reach you.

As you would expect, Syria, Iraq, and Iran are not listed as one of the 38 ‘friendly’ countries. However, we’ve already explained the fluid nature of modern terrorism. For example, there are Isis sympathisers in the relatively ‘safe’ United Kingdom. In fact, many have already fled the UK, heading for Syria to join the radical factions. What’s to stop them from applying for a visa waiver, and heading to the United States instead? As you can see, this untamable threat poses a worrisome process for America.

The changes to the program are mostly internal. The Department of Homeland Security insist that it won’t affect lawful trade and travel. It simply means that deeper background checks will take place behind the scenes. In addition, they have also placed stricter rules on certain countries, particularly Eastern European nations. The US has caused controversy in this area previously by refusing to integrate Poland into the waiver scheme. A democratic member of the European Union, Poland has been excluded, despite millions of Polish migrants currently working in America.

The US government also has a firm eye on the unfolding refugee crises in Europe. The EU’s borders are currently lowering their guard to assist millions of displaced refugees. Fleeing their war torn homes in Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, and Afghanistan, the EU is embracing millions of civilians. The refugees are seeking peace and assistance in Germany, Italy, Britain, and Turkey. Of course, 99% of these desperate and deprived families have been torn apart by the vicious fighting in their home nation. However, the US government is suspicious of terrorist activity leaking onto the continent at large. Again, the visa waiver program would be the easiest way onto American soil.

In addition to extra background checks and tighter laws, the US are boosting their numbers of federal air marshals. These are the trained professionals aboard flights, specifically on the lookout for suspicious activity. They are trained to spot early signs of danger, and neutralise any potential terrorist threats on board the plane. As part of the government crackdown, the numbers will be increased on flights from visa waiver ‘safe’ countries.

The news comes as no surprise from a nation that boasts one of the tightest visa restrictions on the planet. Getting a visa to visit America is tough, let alone live here. Work visas are a notoriously difficult process. The same can be said for obtaining a spouse visa when a migrant marries a US citizen. However, there is plenty of assistance in this department, and it’s one of the easier visa programs.

In order to live and work in the US, the government requires a long list of documents and background checks. Naturally, a passport, ID, and confirmation photo is always required. However, it goes much deeper than that. A prospective immigrant will also need to provide sponsorship documents. These are confirmations and support from an existing US citizen. It proves that the migration is backed by someone who owns property in the country. The government also requires financial documents to back up your monetary claims. This may include bank statements, invoices, and business receipts from your previous country. It’s not uncommon to provide family photographs, birth certificates, and other proof of family. Finally, migrants are usually required to prove their travel arrangements to show how they arrived in the US.

Once these documents are checked, migration officers will enquire about future plans. This covers both immediate future, and long-term plans. They’ll ask for the address you’re staying at on arrival, and an employment or family contact in the US. They’ll also make sure you’re fit to work in the country, and ask for employment and business plans.

As you can see, the visa process in the US has never been easy. Most of the additional restrictions were enforced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Only now are they tightening the belt even further. The recent amendment takes into account the dangerous flow of terrorism, and its unbridled nature. Despite that, we remind travelers (again) that lawful trade and travel should not be affected.

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