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Reps. Conyers and Lofgren Applaud Implementation of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015

Jan 22, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today U.S. Representatives John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee released the following statements after the Departments of Homeland Security and State announced yesterday implementation of the Visa Waiver Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015:

Rep. Conyers: “Requiring all travelers under the Visa Waiver Program to have an unexpired, fraud-resistant e-passport is an important security measure.  I also support new requirements for Interpol screening of travelers and reporting on theft of passports.  These provisions are included in the new law and will help improve our security here at home.

“I did not support this legislation, however, precisely because it failed to include critical exceptions for humanitarian aid workers and journalists reporting on the war in Syria and the atrocities ISIS is committing in the Middle East.  It also codifies provisions that could result in discrimination against people simply because they are dual citizens based on ancestry, which could lead to our Visa Waiver Program partner nations placing new limits on travel by U.S. citizens to their countries.

“I am pleased to see that the Administration is taking a common sense approach to implementation through the exercise of the statutory waiver authority on a case-by-case basis when it is in the law enforcement or national security interest of the United States.  I am hopeful that further implementation announcements from the Administration will make clear that the United States will not discriminate against any travelers based solely on ancestry. Doing so would accomplish the national security goals of the new law, while also adhering to the letter and spirit of the statute.”

Rep. Lofgren: "We all agree that the first responsibility of government is to keep the American people safe. That is why I joined in a bipartisan effort to craft compromise legislation that enhances security in the Visa Waiver Program and ensures that any vulnerabilities that could put the American people at risk are addressed.

“Yesterday’s announcement from the Administration recognizes that U.S. national security interests include statutory waivers for those who have spent time in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, or other designated countries to provide medical or humanitarian aid or as journalists or researchers and in the case of Iran for legitimate business travel.  This approach to implementation, along with the other provisions in the new law, makes us safer.  The bill, as drafted, explicitly permitted the Administration to implement the visa program in this way and Democrats would not have supported the measure without providing the ability of the Administration to implement the program in this sensible way.”

“With respect to the legislation’s dual national provisions, we have received assurances from the Departments of Homeland Security and State that the United States will not allow other countries to dictate limitations on travel to the United States based solely on another country’s nationality laws and one’s parentage – or, in turn, have such limitations imposed on Americans traveling abroad. The legislation passed by the House never sanctioned discrimination against Americans based on heritage and I am pleased that the Obama Administration agrees and has made that point abundantly clear for all Americans.”

Background: Under the Act, certain travelers are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program:

  • 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); and
  • 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 stand ready to process applications on an expedited basis.

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.  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.

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114th Congress