On November 3, 2014, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that the agency is instituting additional security measures for individuals seeking admission to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP is typically available to citizens of countries with relatively high rates of travel to the United States and low rates of overstaying. Qualified individuals may be admitted to the United States as visitors without obtaining a visa from a U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate.

The new procedure will require VWP applicants to provide additional information when applying under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The additional information includes applicants’ parents’ name(s), national identification number (if applicable), contact information (email, phone, and points of contact), employment information (if applicable), city of birth, passport data, contact information, and potential names or aliases.  

The government has determined that the additional data requested will enhance its ability to more accurately screen and identify potential security risks. CBP states that the higher scrutiny is based upon concerns regarding international terrorism: 

Although the U.S. Government does not currently have any credible information that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or other Syria-based terrorist groups are planning imminent attacks against the United States . . . a significant number of foreign fighters have traveled to Syria over the past three years, including citizens from the United States and Europe. Many of these foreign fighters have joined ISIL’s and other terrorist groups’ ranks and there are significant concerns that these groups may use these fighters to conduct external attacks. . . . Many of these fighters may possess valid European and U.S. passports or travel documents, and pose a potential threat for committing terrorist attacks in Europe or the United States.

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[T]he Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is strengthening the security of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) through enhancements to ESTA. These improvements are designed to address the immediate foreign fighter threat, provide an additional layer of enduring security for the VWP and facilitate visa-free travel to the United States. DHS has determined that ESTA enhancements will improve the Department’s ability to screen prospective VWP travelers and more accurately and effectively identify those who pose a security risk to the United States.

Upon the expiration of ESTA clearance or expiration of the individual’s passport, a new ESTA clearance with the new data fields will be required for any future travel under the VWP. VWP travelers should apply for ESTA clearance as early as possible, and should recognize the possibility of ESTA delays or denials. If an applicant’s answers to questions lead to denial of ESTA clearance, those individuals must apply for a visa at a U.S. Consulate before they are eligible to be admitted to the United States as a visitor.