Legislative Activity

House to Vote on Changes to Visa Waiver Program, While Attention Could Soon Turn to U.S. Visa System Overall

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has scheduled a vote this week on a measure to overhaul the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which permits citizens from approved countries to enter the United States visa-free.  The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (H.R. 158) is an amended version of legislation introduced by Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) and approved by the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this year.  H.R. 158 includes provisions that would strengthen criteria for countries to be designated as part of the VWP, restrict travel under the VWP for individuals who have recently traveled to Iraq or Syria or other designated countries of concern, and require VWP travelers to carry electronic passports.

The Senate has not yet scheduled a vote on similar bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and eleven cosponsors.  The Visa Waiver Program Security Enhancement Act (S. 2337) contains provisions similar to Rep. Miller’s proposal and would require:

  • Anyone who has traveled to Syria or Iraq in the last five years to obtain a traditional visa;
  • Those traveling under the VWP to submit biometric information (i.e., fingerprints and a photograph) before traveling to the U.S.;
  • The use of electronic passports; and
  • Increased intelligence-sharing between program countries and the United States.

Members could soon focus their attention on overhauling the U.S. visa system after reports that one of the attackers in the San Bernardino mass shooting had pledged allegiance to ISIS.  Tashfeen Malik entered the United States on a K-1 visa, which allows foreigners to come to the United States to marry a U.S. citizen.  An aide to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) pledged that the panel “will continue to examine our immigration laws to ensure that those who wish America harm are not admitted to the United States,” while his Senate counterpart, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), called for a “complete review of our immigration programs – not just to prevent the entry of extremists, but to address the problem of post-entry and second-generation radicalization.”

This Week’s Hearings:

  • On Tuesday, December 8, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security will hold a hearing titled “Examining TSA’s Global Efforts to Protect the Homeland from Aviation Threats and Enhance Security at Last Point of Departure Airports.”
  • On Wednesday, December 9, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a business meeting to consider legislation.
  • On Wednesday, December 9, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a roundtable titled “Strengthening the Visa Waiver Program After the Paris Attacks.”
  • On Wednesday, December 9, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation with Director James B. Comey, Jr.
  • On Wednesday, December 9, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to consider judicial nominations.
  • On Wednesday, December 9, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security will hold a hearing on oversight of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services with Director Leon Rodriguez.
  • On Thursday, December 10, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management will hold a hearing titled “Implementing Solutions: The Importance of Following Through on GAO and OIG Recommendations.”
  • On Thursday, December 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a meeting to consider legislation.