Saturday February 20, 2016
By Ron Nixion
Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, speaks at a hearing last week.
WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday added three countries to a growing list that would prohibit people who have visited those nations in the past five years from entering the United States without a visa.The new countries are Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The department indicated that other nations could be added.
The Obama administration previously announced changes to the visa-waiver program that would make it harder for travelers to enter the United States from Europe if they had dual citizenship from Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, or had visited one of those countries in the last five years. The restrictions announced on Thursday would not apply to those with dual citizenship in Libya, Somalia or Yemen, the agency said.
The changes to the visa-waiver program come after the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people and wounded 368. Because the attackers were all European citizens who were eligible to receive visa waivers, some lawmakers and counterterrorism officials feared that terrorists could exploit the program and travel to the United States to commit similar attacks.
The travelers are not barred from the United States, but they will have to go through the more rigorous regular visa application process to enter the country.
The administration’s plan would provide limited exemptions to those who have to travel to any of the seven countries as diplomats or for military service. Additional exemptions could be applied for humanitarian reasons or for journalists. The secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, also could make additional exemptions if he determines that such a waiver is in the security interests of the United States.
Several supporters of the legislation that led to the changes in the visa-waiver program applauded the Department of Homeland Security for adding the new countries, but they took issue with Obama administration plans to allow waivers.
Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has accused the administration of violating the law. “Despite these positive steps, I still have grave concerns that the administration is not implementing this law as Congress intended and plans to waive important security screening requirements to appease countries like Iran,” he said in a statement. “The president must faithfully adhere to the law — it’s his duty to the Constitution and to ensure the security of the American people.”
About 38 countries, mostly in Europe, participate in the visa-waiver program, which allows their citizens to visit the United States without a visa on trips of 90 days or less. About 20 million tourists use the program each year.