In the wake of the ISIS attacks in Paris and the ongoing threat posed by foreign jihadists, the United States “is aggressively strengthening its Visa Waiver Program and bolstering [its] relationships with Visa Waiver Program (VWP) partners by immediately moving forward on” a number of administrative actions,” the White House announced Monday.
These measures include the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immediately taking steps to modify its Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) applications to capture information from VWP travelers regarding any past travel to countries constituting a terrorist safe haven. The Director of National Intelligence, in coordination with the DHS secretary will identify and regularly review these countries so that traveler riskassessments can be made on the most up-to-date information.
In consultation with the Secretary of State and other appropriate agencies, DHS also will accelerate its review process for VWP partner countries and within 60 days, and provide a full report to the President identifying possible pilot programs designed to assess the collection and use of biometrics (fingerprints and/or photographs) in the VWP to effectively increase security; and identifying any countries deficient in key areas of cooperation, along with recommended options to engender compliance using a range of penalties and incentives available under his current authority including the more frequent submission of ESTAs and/or the suspension of ESTA issuances (new and/or renewals) for citizens of countries that fail to meet key metrics.
The FBI director, meanwhile, “will evaluate the terrorism information sharing that occurs between the United States and VWP countries, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, and provide a report” to the President within 60 days identifying options to mitigate any deficiencies.
DHS will also offer assistance to countries to better facilitate terrorism information sharing, specifically to include biometric pilots.
“For example,” the administration said, “DHS and the Terrorist Screening Center will assist all interested VWP countries in screening refugees or asylum seekers, including through the application of extensive terrorism information already provided to VWP members and through piloting capability for conducting near real time biometric checks.”
Additionally, the Secretaries of DHS, State and Commerce will promote the Global Entry program among VWP partners to further expand this trusted traveler program, which includes biometrics.
The DHS secretary will further work with Congress to seek authority to increase Advance Passenger Information System fines from $5,000 to $50,000 for air carriers that fail to verify a traveler’s passport data.
The Departments of Homeland Security and State, FBI and Intelligence Community components will deploy “Foreign Fighter Surge Teams to work with countries to counter terrorist travel.”
DHS and the State Department also” will encourage and provide assistance as needed to enhance border security and legislation related to FTFs of our partner countries, and encourage more robust information sharing, better use of shared information, and more effective and efficient coordination between our partners.”