Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced additional “countries of concern” under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015. Individuals who traveled to Libya, Somalia, or Yemen since March 1, 2011 are now ineligible to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. In December 2015, the United States Congress stripped waiver eligibility for both travelers to and dual-nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria. This disqualification will also be applicable to travelers to and dual-nationals of any other country later designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.
The Visa Waiver Program generally permits citizens and nationals of 28 participating countries to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa. Participant countries include close U.S. allies such as Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Travelers who have been in countries of concern since March 1, 2011, and individuals such as German-Iranian dual-nationals, should carefully consider the new visa requirements prior to scheduling travel to the United States.
DHS may provide waivers to these restrictions on a case-by-case basis. Travelers may be eligible for waivers if their travel to the countries of concern involved:
- Official duty on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments;
- Official duty on behalf of a humanitarian NGO; or
- Journalistic reporting.
DHS may also issue waivers for “individuals who traveled to Iran for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (July 14, 2015),” in addition to individuals who traveled to Iraq for “legitimate business-related purposes.” Business travelers must present their case to DHS and obtain a specific waiver. This process will very likely impede the free movement of European nationals and interfere with the ability of Iran to fully reengage with Europe.