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Alert: Changes to the Visa Waiver Program Part of Latest Omnibus Bill

On December 18, 2015, Congress enacted the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015.  This law restricts the right of nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan, or individuals who have traveled to these countries, from utilizing the Visa Waiver Program (“VWP”).

THE VISA WAIVER PROGRAM

The VWP is the most frequently used program for entry into the U.S. by foreign national business people and tourists.  About 60% of all foreign visitors to the U.S. arrive through VWP, amounting to about 20 million entries a year.  The VWP allows nationals of approved countries to enter the U.S. for purposes of conducting business or tourism without the need to obtain a Visa Stamp at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas.  The process for obtaining a Visa Stamp can take several weeks to several months, however, once obtained the visas are normally valid from 5 to 10 years.  VWP users need only possess a machine readable passport issued by their home country and must register with ESTA prior to travel to the U.S.  Please see the chart below for the approved country members of the VWP.

THE NEW RESTRICTIONS

 

Individuals who are dual citizens of an approved VWP program and either Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan may no longer use the VWP for entry to the U.S.  These individuals are now required to apply for a Visa Stamp at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad for visa stamping prior to travel to the U.S.  Likewise, nationals of an approved VWP country who have traveled to one of these countries at any time after March 1, 2011 are now disqualified from using VWP and must obtain a visa unless the visit was for military service or government work on behalf of a VWP country.

For example, if a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and Iran wishes to travel to the U.S. for a business meeting, she may no longer make the entry using her U.K. passport under the VWP.  She must now process a B-1 Business Visa at the U.S. Consulate in the U.K., which can cause delays in travel and entry, so advance planning is required.

The new law also reserves the right for the federal government to add additional countries to the list of VWP disqualified nations.

STEPS YOUR ORGANIZATION SHOULD TAKE NOW 

The new law will have a disruptive effect on U.S. organizations who do business with dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan or, perhaps more prevalently, businesses who send foreign employees or business partners to these countries for work or business.  These organizations should promptly notify affected individuals to plan for obtaining a B-1 Business Visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in order to facilitate any future travel to the U.S.  For example, if you work with a foreign vendor who also conducts business within one of the designated countries, he may be barred from entering the U.S. for your next business meeting unless he obtains a B-1 Business Visa prior to his entry.

Please feel free to contact FordMurray for any questions or assistance you may need on this new development.

LIST OF VISA WAIVER PROGRAM COUNTRIES

 

Andorra France Liechtenstein San Marino
Australia Germany Lithuania Singapore
Austria Greece Luxembourg Slovakia
Belgium Hungary Monaco Slovenia
Brunei Iceland Netherlands South Korea
Czech Republic Ireland New Zealand Spain
Denmark Italy Norway Sweden
Estonia Japan Portugal Switzerland
Finland Latvia Republic of Malta Taiwan
Chile     United Kingdom

If you represent a business, we can help you with your immigration needs. Immigration law is complicated, to say the least, and we specialize in helping businesses make sense of existing laws and comply with fastchanging requirements.

Whether it’s hiring a foreign national and helping that individual immigrate into the United States, assisting an employee already living in the US with an immigration status, helping your business stay in compliance with immigration programs like I9 or EVerify, or assisting with other immigration matters… we want to help!

Contact us today for more information!