Are changes to Visa Waiver Program affecting you?

If you traveled to Syria, Sudan, Iraq or Iran, the USA will now require you to apply for a visa, instead of allowing you to enjoy the visa waiver program to enter the United States. This major change in policy will affect quite a number of business travelers.

Like most Western Europeans, you have most probably traveled to the United States of America enjoying the simplicity of the Visa Waiver Program that is in place with some 35+ countries, including Belgium, The Netherlands and France. Some major changes were announced on January 21st, that could affect your future travel plans.

Recently, the press has covered instances of dual national citizens who have been refused entry to the US. The story of a dual-national British journalist, on her way to visit relatives in the United States, is a perfect example. Read here – bbc journalist.

Probably less known is a second category of travelers directly hit by the changes implemented under the ‘Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015’. Nationals of countries that enjoy the visa waiver program, and have traveled to the aforementioned countries after March 1st, 2011, are affected. A press release from the Department of Homeland Security states that:

Under the Act, travelers 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 March 1, 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.”

Here is the link to the press release: http://www.dhs.gov/news/2016/01/21/united-states-begins-implementation-changes-visa-waiver-program

The same press release reassures that visa requests can be processed on an expedited basis for individuals who require a visa for “urgent business travel”. Furthermore, the release clarifies that:

“…any traveler who receives notification that they are no longer eligible to travel under the VWP are still eligible to travel to the United States with a valid nonimmigrant visa issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate. Such travelers will be required to appear for an interview and obtain a visa in their passports at a U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling to the United States…”

Forewarned is forearmed. Check your travel of the past 5 years, because coming to the US for business might now require a little more effort on your part.

If you have questions you can always contact me (although I am not a lawyer), or your favorite immigration lawyer.

 

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