state dept logoIn January, the U.S. Department of State implemented some key changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which may have an impact on individuals who have either traveled to or are joint nationals of several countries with known connections to global terror networks.

The VWP is designed to more easily facilitate travel to the United States or its territories from a select group of countries by allowing their nationals to register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), in lieu of obtaining visas. The 38 countries participating in the VWP include most European nations, along with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

What has changed?

Under the new rules, there are new restrictions on anyone who has traveled to Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan since March 1, 2011. Those individuals are no longer able to travel to the United States without a visa, and if they were registered with ESTA, their registrations will be revoked. Similarly, individuals who are both nationals of VWP member countries and nationals of the four countries in question—whether they have traveled to those countries or not—are also barred from traveling without a visa.

State Department officials also indicated that the agency might add other countries to the list in the future, raising the possibility that even more individuals may be affected by the changes.

There are some exceptions, however, that may allow certain individuals to continue to travel without a visa, even if they have visited the four restricted countries. Those who meet any of the following criteria may have their restrictions waived on a case-by-case basis:

  • Traveled to any of the four countries for international or regional organizations, or on official duty for a sub-national government
  • Traveled to any of the four countries on official duty for a humanitarian organization
  • Traveled to any of the four countries in a journalistic capacity
  • Traveled to Iran (after July 14, 2015) or Iraq for legitimate business purposes

What this means for travelers

The point of the VWP is to ease the burdens associated with international travel. Unfortunately, the new restrictions for those who have traveled to Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan will result in increased wait times, as those individuals are now required to obtain visas for travel to the United States. The State Department recommends allowing additional time for the application process—and starting that process much further in advance than was necessary in the past.

For assistance with navigating the immigration process, or for information about how the new changes to the VWP might affect your or your company’s ability to conduct business, consult an experienced U.S. Virgin Islands immigration attorney today.

BoltNagi is a widely respected and established international law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.