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UNITED STATES – Major Changes to the Visa Waiver Program for Certain Individuals

Effective 21 January 2016, the U.S. Department of State has implemented changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) which will exclude dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, and those who have visited any of those countries since March 2011, from entering the U.S. via this route.

The changes come under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, signed into law on 18 December 2015.

Who is Affected?

Under the Act, travellers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after 1 March 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country);
  • Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

These individuals will still be able to apply for a visa using the regular immigration process at U.S. embassies or consulates. For those who need a U.S. visa for urgent business, medical, or humanitarian travel to the United States, U.S. embassies and consulates are ready to process applications on an expedited basis.

Travellers who currently have valid Electronic System for Travel Authorisations (ESTAs) and who have previously indicated holding dual nationality with one of the four countries listed above on their ESTA applications will have their current ESTAs revoked.

Exceptions

Under the new law, the Secretary of Homeland Security may waive these restrictions if he determines that such a waiver is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States. Such waivers will be granted only on a case-by-case basis. As a general matter, categories of travelers who may be eligible for a waiver include:

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

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows qualifying citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less. Travelers must be eligible to use the VWP and have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel.

Action Items

  • Travellers in the excluded categories should check their eligibility for a waiver;
  • Current ESTA holders should check their ESTA status prior to travel on the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) website.

This news alert was prepared using information provided by Maggio and Kattar.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this immigration alert has been abridged from laws, court decisions, and administrative rulings and should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the applicability of this information, please contact Peregrine © 2017 Peregrine Immigration Management Ltd.