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UNITED STATES – Libya, Somalia and Yemen Added to Countries of Concern List for Visa Waiver Program

On 18 February the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it is adding Libya, Somalia and Yemen to the list of countries or areas of concern, limiting Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travel for certain individuals who have visited any of those countries since 1 March 2011.

However, unlike the first four countries on the list (Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria, since 21 January 2016), a person who is a dual citizen of a visa waiver-eligible country and one of the newly added countries of concern may still travel using the VWP.

The changes come under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015.

Who is Affected?

Under the Act, nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Libya, Somalia, Yemen, 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)
are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

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.

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.

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.

The VWP was amended following the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. On December 18, 2015, the President signed into law the “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2015” as part of the year-end spending bill. Among other provisions, this law amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide enhanced security measures for the VWP.

Action Items

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after 1 March 2011 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 Littler and 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.