In Wake of Paris Attacks, Collins, King Cosponsor Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen Visa Waiver Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have joined with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to introduce bipartisan legislation that would strengthen the security of the Visa Waiver Program to help prevent terrorists from entering the United States.

“Protecting the safety and security of the people of Maine and across our country remains our most important consideration as we seek to combat ISIS,” said Senator Collins. “While most of the refugees are fleeing the same terrorists in their home countries that concern us as Americans, we must assume that ISIS will exploit any opportunity to attack the American people, our allies in Europe, or Muslims who do not share their extremist ideology.  This bipartisan legislation tightens the Visa Waiver Program to help prevent Islamic terrorists and other radical extremists from hijacking the program to enter the United States from trusted countries without a visa and the scrutiny it entails.”

“The Visa Waiver Program is an important tool that has increased the ease of travel between member countries and improved security measures associated with that travel,” Senator King said. “But with an increasing number of citizens from visa waiver countries traveling to the Middle East and North Africa to train and fight in support of terrorism, it’s critical that we ensure the program can’t be exploited as a potential gateway to the United States. That’s why Congress should immediately strengthen the Visa Waiver program to reflect the realities of today’s world. Doing so will help deny terrorists an opportunity to do us harm and take a substantial step towards better protecting the American people.”

The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of participating countries, including most of those in Europe, to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, after having met certain security requirements. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the program was used nearly 20 million times last year to gain access to the United States. Thousands of European citizens have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight, and an estimated 45 million lost or stolen passports are on the black market. It’s critical that Congress take up legislation to strengthen the program.

The Visa Waiver Program Security Enhancement Act would improve the security of the Visa Waiver Program by:

  • Requiring individuals who have traveled to Syria or Iraq in the past five years to acquire a traditional tourist visa instead of traveling without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. This process requires an in-person interview with an American consular official and the submission of the traveler’s biometric information.
  • Requiring travelers using the Visa Waiver Program to submit biometric information, in the form of fingerprints and a photograph, before they travel to the United States.
  • Requiring all visa waiver travelers to use an electronic passport, which is more secure and more difficult to tamper with.
  • Requiring increased intelligence-sharing between Visa Waiver Program countries and the United States.

For more information on the legislation, click HERE.