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New Restrictions on Visa Waiver Travel

December 21, 2015

The new changes will restrict use of the Visa Waiver Program by persons who have visited Iran, Iraq, Syria, or the Sudan any time after March 1, 2011.

The US in recent days tightened security requirements of its visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries (including Austria) to travel to the U.S. without visas. Now, people from those countries who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan in the past five years must obtain a B-1/B-2 visa before any planned travel to the United States. Additional “countries of concern” may be added to this list.

Visa applications should be made well in advance of planned travel, since visa workload should be increasing at U.S. consulates. Travelers should also expect additional security delays between visa applications and visa issuance for applicants who have traveled to any of these countries.

The Department of Homeland Security is prepared to work with Congress on legislation that would strengthen the visa waiver program, such as requiring electronic passports with security chips from all visa waiver countries, enhancing screening through Interpol and sharing more information between countries about travelers. The administration is identifying ways to collect more fingerprints under the visa waiver program and to identify penalties and incentives for countries to cooperate more on information sharing. Congress is asked to make a number of legal changes, including an increase of penalties for airlines that fail to certify passport information on U.S.-bound passengers. The fine will be raised up to USD 50,000.

The United States will also expand the use of fingerprints and photographs to identify passengers and update its databases to include any past travel to a country considered as a terrorist safe haven. Such countries include Somalia, Mali, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia and Venezuela, according to the State Department.