- The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) makes US-bound travel from the 36 member countries more secure than US-bound travel from the rest of the world. Hallmarks of the VWP include security-related information sharing between the United States and foreign governments and improved foreign government security standards, including more secure travel documents and high-caliber passenger screening technology.
- No new countries have joined the VWP since Greece in March 2010, although several countries are engaged in ongoing discussions with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about possible designation.
With a view toward expanding the VWP, President Obama recently signaled the administration’s support for the Secure Traveler and Counterterrorism Partnership Act of 2011.
- Sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators (including Senators Mikulski and Kirk and Representative Quigley), the proposed Act amends the Immigration and Nationality Act by changing VWP eligibility criteria. Instead of designating VWP countries in part on the basis of visa refusal rates, it considers overstay rates.
- Under the proposed Act, for a country to qualify for the VWP, its visa overstay rate cannot be more than three percent during the previous fiscal year. This change would likely make a number of interested countries VWP-eligible.
- The proposed Act has the support of the US Travel Association, the National Retail Federation, and other industry stakeholders.