House Passes Miller’s Visa Waiver Program Legislation
Washington – Today, an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority of the House (407-19) voted for the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, legislation introduced by U.S. Representative Candice Miller (MI-10) to help the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identify and stop terrorists with Western passports from entering the United States. Representative Miller, Vice Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, delivered the following statement on the Floor in support of her legislation:
“The 9/11 Commission said that ‘for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.’ And I couldn’t agree more. We simply cannot give people from other countries special access to our country if we don’t have all the information that we absolutely need to ensure they are not a threat to our national security.
“And I believe, that the bill we are considering today is the first of many aimed at improving our security protocols.
“We need a complete, comprehensive review of all our visa programs, including K1 visas, the so-called ‘fiancé visa,’ which was used by the female terrorist in the San Bernardino attack to enter the United States. As well, the issue of visa overstays also needs to be addressed.
“Today, the House is taking a very important step by considering this bill focused on those traveling to the U.S. without a visa.
“The Visa Waiver Program was established in the 80s to expedite tourism and trade. And it has worked very well economically for our country. Today, 38 countries participate and their citizens, although they’re required to have a passport, are not required to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to obtain a visa.
“Obviously, the world is a different place today, and our security measures must evolve to meet any and all threats, and, that’s why I introduced this bill.
“This bill has gone through regular order. As Chairman of the Border and Maritime Subcommittee I’ve held two hearings on this and it actually passed out of the full Homeland Security Committee on a unanimous vote, every Republican and every Democrat. Because before we are anything else we are all Americans first and we all recognize the vulnerabilities of our current program.
“Information sharing, especially with our European allies, is vital to help combat the threat of foreign fighters bound for the United States. There is absolutely no second for having good information. We need to be certain that participating countries are giving us all the information we need from either their own terror watch lists or travel manifests and that the information protocols are being shared.
“As we know, sometimes it’s not until after the fact that some of the participating countries actually provide us names of individuals who they knew were a terror threat. That is unacceptable.
“This bill will change that because what this bill does is gives authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security to either suspend or terminate a country’s participation in this program if we don’t feel confident that we are getting the critical information that we need to stop terrorists from exploiting this program to travel to the United States.
“So we know that, at this time, we still have an information sharing problem with some of our closest allies. And as the 9/11 Commission also accurately noted, we need to move from the mindset of ‘need to know’ information to the ‘need to share’ information.
“Information sharing must happen and this bill gives America the leverage it needs to make sure the information critical to our homeland security is being shared appropriately.
“It will also disqualify anyone who has traveled to Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and Iran within the past five years from participating in the program. In an abundance of caution, we will now require those individuals to apply for a visa and go through the formal visa screening process.
“We will also give the Secretary of Homeland Security the discretion to designate other countries that have significant terror concerns, or become terror safe havens in the future.
“Additionally, we will require all participating countries to adopt ‘e-passports’ as we already have in the United States so that we’re able to eliminate passport fraud.
“As Americans, we live in a free and open society, and the enemies of freedom are looking to use our freedoms against us. This bill will stop the enemies’ ability to move internationally by strengthening the Visa Waiver Program and it is a critical component of keeping our Homeland safe.
“I want to thank the House Leadership for ensuring the prompt consideration of this bill on the Floor, and I certainly want to thank Chairman McCaul and Chairman Goodlatte for working as well on this bill. As well, I also want to thank Representative Katko of New York who is the Chairman of the Foreign Fighter Task Force, which really helped make this bill a stronger product.
“It is my hope that a strong bipartisan vote on this bill today will send a message to terrorists that America is prepared to take any and all measures to protect our Homeland.”
Key provisions of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015:
- Requires countries participating in our Visa Waiver Program to continually share terrorism and foreign traveler data with the United States and requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend their participation if they do not meet this requirement. (Currently, the Secretary can only suspend VWP participation for imminent national security threats.)
- Requires countries participating in our Visa Waiver Program to utilize INTERPOL’s criminal and law enforcement databases by requiring countries to report lost and stolen passports within 24 hours and screen all passengers against all INTERPOL databases and notices, and requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend their participation if they do not meet this INTERPOL requirement. (Currently, with respect to INTERPOL, the Secretary can only suspend a country’s participation if they are not sharing lost and stolen passport data with INTERPOL or in emergency situations.)
- Requires all Visa Waiver Program travelers use Electronic Passports or “e-passports” with biometric enabled chips by April 1, 2016. Furthermore, VWP countries will be required to have in place mechanisms to validate e-passports. (Currently, Visa Waiver Program countries issue but not all eligible travelers hold an e-passport.)
- Directs DHS to report to Congress, within 30 days, on steps to strengthen ESTA in order to better secure the United States and prevent terrorists from exploiting the Visa Waiver Program.
- Requires an annual national security threat assessment for “high-risk” countries and allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend a country’s participation if it is deemed “high-risk.”