New Restrictions on Who May Use Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Signed Into Law

In response to concerns about global terrorism and the Paris bombings of 2015, Congress included changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

Who Will Be Personally Affected by New VWP Restrictions

Starting on Decemer 18, 2015, the following non-citizens may no longer enjoy the ease of U.S. entry that the VWP once offered. Specifically:

  • People who have been present in the countries of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, or any other country that DHS designates as supporting terrorism or "of concern," at any time on or after March 1, 2011, are no longer eligible to participate in the VWP. There's an exemption for people performing military service in the armed forces of a VWP country or carrying out official duties in a full-time capacity in the employment of a VWP country government (but you should carry proof of this). DHS may also lift ("waive") this exclusion for reasons to do with U.S. law enforcement or national security interests.
  • Nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan are excluded from the VWP, even if they carry the passport of another country. To learn whether you are a "national" of one of these countries, you will need to research its laws. The most likely situation would be if you or your parents were born there.
It's important to remember that this doesn't mean that people in the above categories can't travel to the U.S. at all; just that they can no longer do so using the VWP. They will instead need to obtain a visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate before commencing travel o the United States.

Possibility of a Waiver From Above Restrictions

As mentioned above, DHS may waive the new restrictions for law enforcement or national security related reasons. Categories of travelers who may be eligible for a waiver, according to the U.S. Department of State, include those who:

  • traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments on official duty
  • traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of a humanitarian NGO on official duty;
  • traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria as a journalist for reporting purposes;
  • traveled to Iran for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (July 14, 2015), or
  • traveled to Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes.

Such waivers will be considered and granted only on a case-by-case basis.

Other New Legal Requirements Affecting All VWP Entrants

The new law also requires participating VWP countries to meet new requirements for passport security, screening, and sharing of information. Countries that fail to meet the new requirements may have their eligibiity to participate in the VWP canceled, in which case none of its citizens will be able to continue traveling to the U.S. on the VWP, but will first need to obtain an appropriate visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate. Not all of these country requirements will go into effect right away.