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Visa-waiver changes may affect American citizens traveling internationally

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The ability of many American citizens to travel without a visa to countries in Europe and east Asia may be undermined due to a provision included in the $1.1 trillion spending bill approved Friday by both houses of Congress to keep government services funded through September 2016, and signed by President Obama that same day.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP), passed by Congress in 1986, allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less. Those countries, in turn, must reciprocate, allowing Americans the travel without a visa.

With the new changes, people traveling from countries covered under the Visa Waiver Program, including citizens of those countries and dual nationals, may now need to get a visa if they are determined to be nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria — predominantly Muslim countries — or if they have visited those countries since 2011.

“Once again, members of Congress are using the government funding bill to pursue their extremist agendas,” said Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the ACLU. “Sneaking damaging and discriminatory riders into a must-pass bill usurps the democratic process and is irresponsible.”

The European Union's Ambassador to the United States David O’Sullivan, and ambassadors from the 28 European member states, including 23 of our countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, issued an open letter in response:

“A blanket restriction on those who have visited Syria or Iraq, for example, would most likely only affect legitimate travel by businesspeople, journalists, humanitarian or medical workers while doing little to detect those who travel by more clandestine means overland.  European Union citizens who are dual nationals of a proscribed country would also be disproportionately and unfairly affected.  Compulsory biometric checks at the port of origin would represent the de facto introduction of a visa regime in all but name; such indiscriminate action against the more than 13 million European citizens who travel to the U.S. each year would be counterproductive, could trigger legally-mandated reciprocal measures,  and would do nothing to increase security while instead hurting economies on both sides of the Atlantic.”

The official website of the Visa Waiver Program lists the following countries: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom. 

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