American lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to impose restrictions making it more difficult for visitors to Iraq, Syria and countries listed as supporting terrorism to travel visa-free to the United States.
The House of Representatives voted 407 to 19 in support of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015, a bill backed by the White House in the aftermath of the deadly attacks in Paris that were conducted by extremists who could have traveled to America without a visa.
It would bar people who traveled after March 1, 2011 to Iraq and Syria, as well as Iran and Sudan, from participating in the visa-free program, require the use of electronic passports for all participating countries and call for participating countries to share more intelligence data on suspected terrorists and criminals.
“In an abundance of caution, we will now require those individuals to apply for a visa and go through the formal visa screening process,” said House Republican Candice Miller, the bill’s main sponsor.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is available to citizens of 38 countries, largely US allies and relatively stable developed democracies.
Many are in Europe, including France and Belgium, the home countries of several of the Paris attackers.
Created in 1986 to help facilitate travel to the US, the program has been a boon to the American economy.
“Yet no amount of economic stimulation is worth risking the lives of our constituents. And recent events around the world necessitate changes to the VWP in order to help ensure its safety,” said House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte.
US officials say about 5,000 Europeans, including many from VWP nations, have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight with extremist groups like the Islamic State and pose an enhanced risk to the United States.
Should the legislation pass the Senate and earn President Barack Obama’s signature, as expected, it would require chip-enhanced electronic passports that contain biometric data for all visa-free travelers arriving in the United States to be in use by next April by all countries participating in the program.