Enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a program that has oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is in partnership with the U.S. State Department and allows 20 million visitors per year to travel to the United States without a visa. VWP is a program that is exclusively for citizens of 38 countries around the world that the U.S. has established a partnership with through and applies a layered system of security to identify and thwart terrorists, dangerous criminals as well as any other individuals that may pose a threat from traveling to the United States. The added levels of security include a thorough screening of VWP travelers prior to travel to the U.S., at different checkpoints throughout the traveler’s trip, and upon arrival at U.S. ports of entry. In return, those partnered 38 countries are required to permit U.S. citizens and nationals to travel to their countries for a comparable period of time without requiring a visa, whether traveling for leisure or on business.


Increase in Security Measures

The Obama Administration has taken a series of steps during 2015 to enhance the significant security measures within the VWP approval process. After the terrorist attacks in Paris, the administration and lawmakers in Congress expressed concern that the Visa Waiver Program was lacking in security after authorities found some of the terrorists involved in the attack were either French or Belgian citizens. Additionally, the Obama Administration is working closely with Congress to provide statutory authority over these new security enhancements, which will further improve the ability to not only implement, but also enforce program changes. Among the new enhancements and increases in security measures, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will immediately implement processes in order to discover whether potential travelers under the program have traveled previously to countries deemed as terrorist safe havens.

One immediate change includes the FBI director being assigned to coordinate terrorism information sharing between the U.S. and various countries. The FBI, DHS, the State Department and other intelligence agencies will also deploy “Foreign Fighter Surge Teams” to work with countries in order to prevent terrorists from traveling to the U.S. Some of the other new enhancements to the VWP program include:

  • Amending Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) applications to include gathering information from VWP travelers concerning past travel to countries that may be establishing a terrorist safe haven.
  • Expediting the review process for travelers from the VWP partner countries.
  • Evaluating the terrorism information sharing that occurs between the U.S. and the VWP partner countries.
  • Offering assistance to countries to better facilitate sharing information regarding terrorism that includes information on biometric pilots.
  • Promoting the Global Entry program amongst VWP partners in order to expand this trusted traveler program, which includes biometric scans for pilots.
  • Possibly raising Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) fines from $5,000 to $50,000 for any air carriers that fail to verify passport information on a passenger.
  • Deploying Foreign Fighter Surge Teams to coordinate counter-terrorism and deterrence of potential terrorists from traveling to the U.S.


It is anticipated that these new and heightened requirements may cause delays to some tourists and business travelers. Below is a listing of the current 38 VWP partner countries:

Listing of Visa Waiver Countries

  • Andorra (1991)
  • Australia (1996)
  • Austria (1991)
  • Belgium (1991)
  • Brunei (1993)
  • Chile (2014)
  • Czech Republic (2008)
  • Denmark (1991)
  • Estonia (2008)
  • Finland (1991)
  • France (1989)
  • Germany (1989)
  • Greece (2010)
  • Hungary (2008)
  • Iceland (1991)
  • Ireland (1995)
  • Italy (1989)
  • Japan (1988)
  • Korea, Republic of (2008)
  • Latvia (2008)
  • Liechtenstein (1991)
  • Lithuania (2008)
  • Luxembourg (1991)
  • Malta (2008)
  • Monaco (1991)
  • Netherlands (1989)
  • New Zealand (1991)
  • Norway (1991)
  • Portugal (1999)
  • San Marino (1991)
  • Singapore (1999)
  • Slovakia (2008)
  • Slovenia (1997)
  • Spain (1991)
  • Sweden (1989)
  • Switzerland (1989)
  • Taiwan (2012)
  • United Kingdom (1988)

For more information on VWP and the new security enhancements, you may visit the Department of Homeland Security website here.