Last week I reported that Department of Homeland Security had announced that it was ushering in security enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) through the collection of additional information about prospective VWP travelers on the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application. Every VWP traveler must complete an ESTA application and have it approved before they can be admitted to the United States without a visa.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has now posted a notice on its website citing the increasingly volatile security situation in the Middle East and the interest in keeping foreign fighters off U.S. soil as the impetus for the changes to the ESTA application. The notice also lists the six additional questions which all prospective VWP travelers must now answer, while addressing concerns about the vulnerability of the VWP. The notice further clarifies that the changes are not regulatory in nature but are allowed under the Paperwork Reduction Act.
The VWP was originally designed to facilitate the flow of people entering the United States for temporary purposes, while reducing the workload of consular officers who would otherwise interview B visa applicants to assess their admissibility. The efficiencies of the VWP notwithstanding, the CBP notice invites the question as to whether proper identification and deterrence of foreign threats can only be guaranteed by requiring all prospective visitors to interview for and obtain a visa before coming to the U.S.
Timothy D. Widman is a Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman, with offices in San Jose and Cupertino.