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Visa waiver program.

Summary

The visa waiver program (VWP) allows nationals from certain countries to enter the United States as temporary visitors (nonimmigrants) for business or pleasure without first obtaining a visa from a U.S. consulate abroad. Temporary visitors for business or pleasure from non-VWP countries must obtain a visa from Department of State (DOS) officers at a consular post abroad before coming to the United States. Concerns have been raised about the ability of terrorists to enter the United States under the VWP, because the VWP bypasses the first step by which foreign visitors are screened for admissibility to enter the United States. Nonetheless, there is interest in the VWP as a mechanism to promote tourism and commerce. In addition to increasing tourism, the inclusion of countries in the VWP may help foster positive relations between the United States and those countries, facilitate information sharing, and ease consular office workloads abroad. As of January 2014, 37 countries participate in the VWP.

In FY2012, there were 19.1 million visitors who entered the United States under this program, constituting 40% of all overseas visitors. To qualify for the VWP, statute specifies that a country must offer reciprocal privileges to U.S. citizens; have had a nonimmigrant refusal rate of less than 3% for the previous year; issue their nationals machine-readable passports that incorporate biometric identifiers; certify that it is developing a program to issue tamper-resident, machine-readable visa documents that incorporate biometric identifiers which are verifiable at the country's port of entry; and not compromise the law enforcement or security interests of the United States by its inclusion in the program. Countries can be terminated from the VWP if an emergency occurs that threatens the United States' security or immigration interests.

All aliens entering under the VWP must present machine-readable passports. In addition, passports issued between October 26, 2005, and October 25, 2006, must have a digitized photo on the data page, while passports issued after October 25, 2006, must contain electronic data chips (e-passports). Under DHS regulations, travelers who seek to enter the United States through the VWP are subject to the biometric requirements of the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program. In addition, aliens entering under the VWP must get an approval from the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a web-based system that checks the alien's information against relevant law enforcement and security databases, before they can board a plane to the United States. ESTA became operational for all VWP countries on January 12, 2009.

Under statute, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the authority to waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement, provided certain conditions are met. The waiver became available in October 2008; however, it was suspended on July 1, 2009, because DHS has not implemented an air-exit system that incorporates biometric identifiers. The waiver will not be available until such a system is implemented, and it is unknown when and if a biometric exit system will be implemented. In 2008, eight countries were added to the VWP who needed the nonimmigrant refusal rate waiver to be part of the program. There are other countries (e.g., Israel, Poland, Romania) that have expressed interest in being a part of the VWP who would need a waiver of the nonimmigrant refusal rate.

Legislation has been introduced in the 113th Congress that would reinstate the waiver authority and make other changes to the VWP, such as allowing DHS to use overstay rates to determine program eligibility (e.g., H.R. 15, H.R. 490, H.R. 1354, S. 223, S. 744). Other bills would allow Hong Kong to be considered a country for the purpose of being eligible for the VWP (e.g., H.R. 1923, S. 266, S. 703), waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement for Israel (e.g., H.R. 300, S. 266, S. 462), and create a new visa waiver program for the U.S. Virgin Islands (H.R. 1966).

Contents

Current Policy
   VWP Qualifying Criteria
   Nonimmigrant Refusal Rate Waiver
      Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
   Arrival and Departure  Inspections
   Trends in Use of the VWP
Policy Issues
   Security
      Debate over Biometric Exit Capacity
   Adding Countries to the VWP
   Information Sharing
   Overstays
Legislation in the 113th Congress
   Broad Changes to the VWP
   Hong Kong
   Israel
   Virgin Islands Visa Waiver Program

Figures

Figure 1. Number of Entrants under the VWP for FY2003-FY2012, and
Percentage of Visitor Entrants Who Are VWP Entrants

Appendixes

Appendix. Legislative History

Contacts

Author Contact Information


February 12, 2014

Current Policy

In general, temporary foreign visitors for business or pleasure from most countries must obtain a "B" nonimmigrant visa (1) from Department of State (DOS) offices at a consular post abroad before coming to the United States. (2) Personal interviews are generally required, and consular officers use the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) to screen visa applicants. In addition to indicating the outcome of any prior visa application of the alien in the CCD, the system links with other databases to flag problems that may make the alien ineligible for a visa under the so-called "grounds for inadmissibility" of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which include criminal, terrorist, and public health grounds for exclusion. Consular officers are required to check the background of all aliens in the "lookout" databases, including the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) and TIPOFF databases. (3)

Under the visa waiver program (VWP), the Secretary of Homeland Security, (4) in consultation with the Secretary of State, may waive the "B" nonimmigrant visa requirement for aliens traveling from certain countries as temporary visitors for business or pleasure (tourists). Nationals from participating countries must use the web-based Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to get an approved electronic travel authorization before embarking to the United States, and are admitted into the United States for up to 90 days. (5) The VWP constitutes one of a few exceptions under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in which foreign nationals are admitted into the United States without a valid visa. As of January 2014, 37 countries participate in the VWP.

Visa Waiver Program Countries (as of January 2014)

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


Although the VWP eases the documentary requirements for nationals from participating countries, it has important restrictions. Aliens entering with a B visa may petition to extend their length of stay in the United States or may petition to change to another nonimmigrant or immigrant status. Aliens entering through the VWP are not permitted to extend their stays except for emergency reasons and then for only 30 days. (6) Additionally, with some limited exceptions, aliens entering through VWP are not permitted to adjust their immigration status. An alien entering through the VWP who violates the terms of admission becomes deportable without any judicial recourse or review (except in asylum cases). (7)

VWP Qualifying Criteria

Currently, to qualify for the VWP a country must

* offer reciprocal privileges to United States citizens;

* have had a nonimmigrant refusal rate of less than 3% for the previous year or an average of no more than 2% over the past two fiscal years with neither year going above 2.5%;

* issue machine-readable passports (all aliens entering under the VWP must possess a machine-readable passport);

* certify that it has established a program to issue to its nationals machine-readable passports that are tamper-resistant and incorporate a biometric identifier (all passports issued after October 26, 2006, presented by aliens entering under the VWP have to be machine-readable and contain a biometric identifier);

* certify that it is developing a program to issue tamper-resident, machine-readable visa documents that incorporate biometric identifiers which are verifiable at the country's port of entry;

* enter into an agreement with the United States to report or make available through International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) (8) information about the theft or loss of passports; (9)

* accept the repatriation of any citizen, former citizen, or national against whom a final order of removal is issued no later than three weeks after the order is issued;

* enter into an agreement with the United States to share information regarding whether a national of that country traveling to the United States represents a threat to U.S. security or welfare; and

* be determined, by the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, not to compromise the law enforcement or security interests of the United States by its inclusion in the program.

Countries can be immediately terminated from the VWP if an emergency occurs in the country that the Secretary of Homeland Security in consultation with the Secretary of State determines threatens the law enforcement or security interest of the United States. (10) For example, because of Argentina's economic collapse in December 2001, (11) and the increase in the number of Argentine nationals attempting to use the VWP to enter the United States and remain illegally past the 90day period of admission, (12) that country was removed from the VWP in February 2002. (13) Similarly, on April 15, 2003, Uruguay was terminated from the VWP because Uruguay's participation in the VWP was determined to be inconsistent with the U.S. interest in enforcing immigration laws. (14) No country has been removed from the VWP since 2003.

Additionally, there is a probationary status for VWP countries that do not maintain a low visa "refusal" rate. Countries on probation are determined by a formula based on a disqualification rate of 2%-3.5%. (15) Probationary countries with a disqualification rate less than 2% over a period not to exceed three years may remain VWP countries. (16) Countries may also be placed on probation if more time is necessary to determine whether the continued participation of the country in the VWP is in the security interest of the United States. For example, in April 2003, Belgium was placed on provisional status because of concerns about the integrity of non-machine-readable Belgian passports and the reporting of lost or stolen passports. (17) DHS completed another country review of Belgium in 2005, and removed the country from probationary status. Belgium was the last country that was placed on probation.

Nonimmigrant Refusal Rate Waiver

Section 711 of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-53) (18) allows the Secretary of DHS, in consultation with the Secretary of DOS, to waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement for admission to the VWP after the Secretary of DHS certifies to Congress that

* an air exit system is in place that can verify the departure of not less than 97% of foreign nationals that exit through U.S. airports, (19) and

* the electronic travel authorization system (ESTA discussed below) is operational. (20)

The waiver became available in October 2008, and was suspended on July 1, 2009. Under statute, the Secretary of DHS's authority to waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate has been suspended until the air exit system is able to match an alien's biometric information with relevant watch lists and manifest information. It is unclear when DHS will implement an exit system with the specified biometric capacity. (21)

To participate in the program, a country that receives a refusal rate waiver also has to

* meet all the security requirements of the program;

* be determined by the Secretary of DHS to have a totality of security risk mitigation measures that provide assurances that the country's participation in the program would not compromise U.S. law enforcement and security interests, or the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws;

* have had a sustained reduction in visa refusal rates, and have existing conditions for the rates to continue to decline;

* have cooperated with the United States on counterterrorism initiatives and information sharing before the date of its designation, and be expected to continue such cooperation; and

* during the previous fiscal year, the nonimmigrant visas refusal rate was not more than 10%, or the overstay rate did not exceed the maximum overstay rate established by the Secretaries of DHS and DOS for countries receiving waivers of the nonimmigrant refusal rate to participate in the VWP the program.

P.L. 110-53 also specified that in determining whether to waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement, the Secretary of DHS, in consultation with the Secretary of DOS, may take into consideration other factors affecting U.S. security, such as the country's airport security and passport standards, whether the country has an effective air marshal program, and the estimated overstay rate for nationals from the country.

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)

As previously mentioned, P.L. 110-53 mandated that the Secretary of DHS, in consultation with the Secretary of DOS, develop and implement an electronic travel authorization system (ESTA), through which each alien electronically provides, in advance of travel, the biographical information necessary to determine whether the alien is eligible to travel to the United States and enter under the VWP. The system as implemented is known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), and became fully operational for all VWP visitors traveling to the United States by airplane or cruise ship on January 12, 2009.22 There is a $14 fee for travelers who use ESTA. (23)

In advance of departing for the United States by airplane or cruise ship, (24) aliens traveling under the VWP are required to use ESTA to electronically provide biographical information to make the eligibility determinations. (25) ESTA alerts the alien that he or she has been approved to travel, and if not approved that the alien needs to obtain a visa prior to coming to the United States. (26) The information required by ESTA is the same that was required on the I-94W form, which aliens arriving in the United States under the VWP were required to complete to be admitted. (27) ESTA also screens applicant responses to the same VWP eligibility questions that was collected on the Form I-94W. (28) The I-94W form became automated in 2013 and is no longer used. (29)

Eligibility to travel, which is determined by ESTA, is valid for two years or until the person's passport expires, is valid for multiple entries, and can be revoked at any time. Notably, a determination under ESTA that an alien is eligible to travel to the United States does not constitute a determination that the alien is admissible. Admissibility determinations are made by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspectors at the ports of entry.

A May 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that in 2010, airlines had complied with the requirement to verify ESTA approval for almost 98% of VWP travelers, but that remaining 2% (approximately 364,000) of travelers had traveled to the United States under the VWP without verified ESTA approval. GAO noted that DHS had not yet completed a review of noncompliant travelers to know to what extent these travelers pose a risk to U.S. interests. (30) In response to the GAO study, DHS established procedures to review a sample of noncompliant passengers on a quarterly basis. (31)

Arrival and Departure Inspections

Unlike other nonimmigrants, those entering under the VWP do not have to get a visa and thus, have no contact with U.S. governmental officials until they arrive at a port of entry and are inspected by CBP officers. Nonetheless, in addition to getting authorization through ESTA, prior to the alien's arrival, an electronic passenger manifest is sent from the airline or commercial vessel to CBP officials at the port of entry which is checked against security databases.

Since October 1, 2002, passenger arrival and departure information on individuals entering and leaving the United States under the VWP has been electronically collected from airlines and cruise lines, through CBP's Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) system. If the carrier fails to submit the information, an alien may not enter under the VWP. APIS sends the data to the DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Arrival and Departure Information System (ADIS) for matching arrivals and departures and reporting purposes. APIS collects carrier information such as flight number, airport of departure and other data.

At ports of entry, CBP officers observe and question applicants, examine passports, and conduct checks against a computerized system to determine whether the applicant is admissible to the United States. (32) Primary inspection consists of a brief interview with a CBP officer, a cursory check of the traveler's documents, and a query of the Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS), (33) and entry of the traveler into the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) system. The US-VISIT system uses biographical (e.g., passport information) and biometric identification (finger scans and digital photographs) to check identity. (34) Officers at the border collect the following information on aliens entering under the VWP: name, date of birth, nationality, gender, passport number, country of issuance, a digital photograph, and prints for both index finders. Primary inspections are quick (usually lasting no longer than a minute); however, if the CBP officer is suspicious that the traveler may be inadmissible under the INA or in violation of other U.S. laws, the traveler is referred to a secondary inspection. Those travelers sent to secondary inspections are questioned extensively, travel documents are further examined, and additional databases are queried. (35)

Additionally, the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act (P.L. 110-53), required that the Secretary of DHS, no later than one year after enactment (i.e., by August 3, 2008), establish an exit system that records the departure of every alien who entered under the VWP and left the United States by air. The exit system is required to match the alien's biometric information against relevant watch lists and immigration information, and compare such biographical information against manifest information collected by airlines to confirm that the alien left the United States.

In April 2008, DHS published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register that would have created biometric exit procedures at airports and seaports for international visitors. (36) DHS was expected to publish the final rule for this system by October 15, 2008. (37) However, in legislation that became law on September 30, 2008, (38) Congress required DHS to complete and report on at least two pilots testing biometric exit procedures at airports. (39) DHS has completed the pilot programs, but according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), "DHS cannot reliably commit to when and how the work will be accomplished to deliver a comprehensive exit solution to its almost 300 ports of entry." (40)

Trends in Use of the VWP

Figure 1 shows the number of entrants under the VWP, and VWP entrants as a percentage of all temporary visitors. (41) Over the period from FY2003 through FY2012, there was not a continuous trend in the number of entrants under the VWP. In FY2012, approximately 19.1 million people entered under the VWP, the largest number of people ever to enter under the program.

In FY2012, visitors entering under the VWP constituted 40% of all temporary visitors, approximately the same percentage as in FY2011.42 Between FY2004 and FY2011, the majority of the growth in temporary visitor admittances came from aliens from countries not in the VWP. Prior to FY2004, every year the percent increase of the number of aliens entering under the VWP was larger than the increase in the number of temporary visitor entrants. (43) However, between FY2004 and FY2011 the increase in the number of aliens entering under the VWP was smaller than the increase in the number temporary visitor entrants. This trend reversed again in FY2012, when the number of people entering under the VWP grew by a slightly larger percentage (4.1%) than the total number of visitors (3.1%) admitted. (44)

Policy Issues

The VWP is supported by the U.S. travel and tourism industry, the business community, and DOS. The travel and tourism industry views the VWP as a tool to facilitate and encourage foreign visitors for business and pleasure, which results in increased economic growth generated by foreign tourism and commerce for the United States. (45) DOS argues that by waiving the visa requirement for high-volume/low-risk countries, consular workloads are significantly reduced allowing for streamlined operations, cost savings, and concentration of resources on greater-risk nations in the visa process. Additionally, some contend that DOS does not have the resources to issue B visas to all the visitors from VWP countries. (46)

While the program has reduced the consular workload in program countries since the officers do not have to issue as many B visas, and has facilitated travel to the United States by citizens of program countries, it has increased the workload of immigration inspectors at ports of entry by shifting the noncitizen's first encounter with a U.S. official to ports of entry. Furthermore, some contend that since terrorism does not have national boundaries, the VWP should not be based on particular countries, but should allow visa-free travel for low-risk individuals (e.g., a trusted traveler program). (47)

Security

There is debate about whether the VWP increases or decreases national security. As discussed, travelers under the VWP do not undergo the screening traditionally required to receive a B nonimmigrant visa. While the ESTA system has increased the security of the VWP, it is a name-based system and cannot be used to run checks against databases that use biometrics such as DHS's Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) and FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). (48) (Travelers are checked against these systems through US-VISIT when they enter the United States.) (49) In addition, some contend that the relaxed documentary requirements of the VWP increase immigration fraud and decrease border security. (50)

Nonetheless, others argue that the VWP enhances security by setting standards for travel documents and information sharing, and that the program promotes economic growth and cultural ties. (51) For example, travelers under the VWP have to present machine-readable passports or e-passports, and eventually, all travelers entering under the VWP will present e-passports, which tend to be more difficult to alter than other types of passports. (52) In addition, many B visas are valid for 10 years, (53) and it is possible that a person's circumstances or allegiances could change during that time.

Another concern about the security of the program centers on DHS' ability to conduct reviews of the current VWP countries. In 2002, Congress mandated that DHS evaluate each VWP country every two years to make sure that their continued participation was in the security, law enforcement, and immigration interests of the United States. (54) In a review of the Visa Waiver Program Office's (VWPO) administration of the VWP, the DHS' Office of the Inspector General found that as of July 2012, there were 11 (out of 36) reports that exceeded the congressional mandated two-year reporting cycle. VWPO cited a number of reasons for the reporting delays, including inadequate staffing of the office to manage the workload, and not receiving intelligence assessments in a timely manner. However, VWPO officials stated that "these delays have not posed any undue risks or threats to U.S. security interests, since any issues within a VWP country that might affect its continued compliance with VWP requirements are continuously monitored." (55)

Debate over Biometric Exit Capacity

As discussed, the Secretary of DHS's authority to waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate has been suspended until the air exit system is able to match an alien's biometric information with relevant watch lists and manifest information. Some contend that the current biographic system provides suitable data for most security and immigration enforcement activities, and that the cost of implementing a biometric exit system would not justify the small increase in additional security. (56) In addition, in December 2011, DHS announced an agreement with Canada to share entry records so that an entry into Canada along the land border would be counted as an exit in U.S. records. (57) It is not clear whether the shared entry records will be a biographic system or contain biometric identifiers. However, others express concerns about the general security of the program and argue that until more security measures are in place, such as a biometric exit capacity, the program should not be expanded. (58)

Adding Countries to the VWP

While some view the VWP as a security risk, others contend that the inclusion of countries in the VWP actually increases U.S. security by setting standards for travel documents and information sharing. (59) In addition, they argue that increasing membership in the VWP could be used as an incentive to get other countries to share intelligence information with the United States. (60) Since 2008, DHS has admitted 10 new countries into the program, but there are other countries that have expressed a desire to be included in the VWP. (61) These countries want to be in the VWP because of the possible economic benefits (e.g., increasing commerce and tourism), making it easier and cheaper for their populace to travel to the United States (i.e., since their citizens do not have to get a visa before traveling temporarily to the United States), and because membership in the program is often perceived as evidence of close ties with the United States. (62)

Poland has been one of the most outspoken countries in regards to expressing frustration over their lack of inclusion in the VWP. (63) Reportedly, President Obama said in December 2010 that he was going to make it a priority to get Poland into the VWP. (64) Nonetheless, Poland's FY2013 nonimmigrant visa refusal rate was above 3%, and thus, Congress would have to amend the INA to allow Poland into the program. (65)

Information Sharing

Currently, all VWP countries provide data on lost and stolen passports (LASP) to the United States. (66) However, concerns have been raised about information sharing on LASP, specifically whether countries are reporting data in a timely manner. (67) The mechanisms to secure data on LASP have differed over time (e.g., reporting to the U.S. Embassy, access to a common database) and by country (e.g., MOUs, Diplomatic Notes). While DHS receives a few countries' LASP data via direct links to those countries' databases, most data on LASP comes from the International Criminal Police Organization's (INTERPOL's) Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database (68) -- DHS' preferred method of data sharing. (69) Notably, ESTA screens passport information using the INTERPOL database. CBP also accesses LASP data via INTERPOL, but it is unclear if this information is checked during primary inspection. (70)

As discussed, all VWP countries are also required to enter into information-sharing agreements with the United States on whether the citizens or nationals of that country travelling to the United States represent a security or criminal threat to the United States. As of January 2013, all VWP countries have completed the required arrangements for the sharing of information on known and suspected terrorists pursuant to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 (HSPD-6). Thirty-four of thirty-seven VWP countries have also signed Preventing and Combating Crime (PCSC) Agreements or equivalent agreements with United States. Two additional PCSC Agreements have been concluded with signature pending. The one remaining PCSC Agreement is still being negotiated in conformity with a statement of intent signed in October 2012. DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are working with foreign partners to bring the PCSC Agreements into force and begin information exchanges. (71) Termination from the VWP is a potential consequence for countries who do not comply with the information-sharing agreement requirement, but, reportedly, officials have described the termination of any country from the VWP because of noncompliance as undesirable. (72)

Overstays

Some maintain that the nonimmigrant visa refusal rate is an unobjective and arbitrary standard, because it is based on decisions made by consular officers rather than the actual behavior of nonimmigrants. In addition, refusal rates are calculated by application, not by person, so if a person applies for the same visa multiple times and is refused, all the refusals are calculated in the refusal rate. (73) When the program was conceived, it was expected that the number of nonimmigrants who overstay the terms of their entry under this program would be a better standard for future program participation. Reportedly, using biographic departure information from passenger manifests, DHS can calculate overstay rates and has done so for all VWP countries (as well as other countries). (74) Nonetheless, this system has limitations because persons entering by air or sea but exiting at a land port of entry may be mischaracterized as overstays. (75)

Importantly, although the refusal rate was seen as a proxy for the overstay rate when the program was conceived, people are denied visas for reasons other than being unable to prove that they will not remain illegally in the United States (i.e., they are "intending immigrants"). (76) During the visa application process, consular officers (77) must confirm that an alien is not ineligible for a visa under any of the so-called "grounds for inadmissibility" of the INA, such as having a criminal history, engaging in terrorist activity, or having previously violated U.S. immigration law. (78) Although most B visa denials are because the alien cannot prove that they are not an "intending immigrant," there are other reasons a person could be denied a visa that are captured as part of a country's visa refusal rate.

Legislation in the 113th Congress

There has been legislation introduced in the 113th Congress that would make broad changes to the VWP by, among other things, reinstating the nonimmigrant refusal rate waiver authority, and by allowing DHS to use overstay rates to determine program eligibility. Other introduced bills are targeted towards changing the VWP requirements of specific geographic areas or countries. Of all the bills with provisions relating to the VWP that have been introduced in the 113th Congress, only S. 744 has received action. (79)

Broad Changes to the VWP

H.R. 15, H.R. 490, H.R. 1354, S. 223, and S. 744 contain almost identical provisions regarding the VWP. The bills would authorize the Secretary of DHS, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to designate a country as a VWP country if the country's overstay rate and/or refusal rate was less than 3% in the previous fiscal year. (80) The bills would also allow the Secretary of DHS to waive the refusal rate requirement if certain conditions were met. These conditions are similar to those in current law regarding the nonimmigrant refusal rate waiver. The bills would revise the current probationary period and procedures for terminating a country's participation in the VWP if that country failed to comply with any of the program's requirements. Not later than 180 days after enactment, the bills would require that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a review of the methods used by DHS to track aliens entering and exiting the United States, and to detect aliens who overstay their authorized period of admission. The bills also would require DHS to submit to Congress an evaluation of the security risks of aliens who enter the United States without an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) verification and description of improvements. This report would be due no later than 90 days after the date of enactment.

Hong Kong

Although the B nonimmigrant refusal rate for people from Hong Kong is less than 3%, (81) Hong Kong is not a country and, thus, under statute cannot be considered for participation in the VWP. (82) H.R. 1923, S. 266, S. 703, and S. 744 would specify that Hong Kong is to be considered a country for the purpose of eligibility for the VWP.

Israel

H.R. 300, S. 266, and S. 462 contain similar provisions regarding Israel, and would allow the nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement to be waived for that country. (83) In addition, the bills state that Israel shall be a program country when the country "has made every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal privileges are extended to all United States citizens." (84) The effect of this language is unclear. While some view it as waiving the requirement that Israel offer reciprocal visa-free travel privileges to U.S. citizens, others note that the effect is unknown because the provision will be interpreted and implemented by the Executive branch.

The possibility of an exemption for Israel on the reciprocity requirement has reportedly "drawn criticism from lawmakers, Arab-American groups and some Jewish critics, who say it would validate Israel's practice of profiling U.S. citizens of Arab, Muslim and Palestinian extraction and often denying them entry to the country on unspecified security grounds." (85) Senator Barbara Boxer, the sponsor of S. 462, has been cited as arguing that the provision in question would "give the United States leverage to pressure Israel" to stop the reported differential treatment of U.S. citizens based on ethnic background. (86)

Another bill, H.R. 938 would not provide any exemptions of the requirements for Israel, but would simply state that Israel should be designated a VWP country when it satisfies the requirements for inclusion. (87)

Virgin Islands Visa Waiver Program

H.R. 1966 would create visa waiver program for nationals from Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations entering the U.S. Virgin Islands for a maximum of 30 days. Countries that are members or associate members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) (88) would be eligible if their inclusion in the Virgin Islands Visa Waiver Program (VIVWP) would not represent a threat to the welfare, safety, or security of the United States or its territories and commonwealths. The bill would allow the Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands to request that the Secretaries of the Interior and DHS add a particular country to the VIVWP. In determining whether to allow a nation to participate in the VIVWP, the Secretary of DHS, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Interior and DOS, would have to consider all relevant factors, including electronic travel authorizations, procedures for reporting lost and stolen passports, repatriation of aliens, rates of refusal for nonimmigrant visitor visas, overstays, exit systems, and information exchange.

Caption: Figure 1. Number of Entrants under the VWP for FY2003-FY2012, and Percentage of Visitor Entrants Who Are VWP Entrants

Appendix. Legislative History

Visa Waiver Pilot Program

The Visa Waiver Program was established as a temporary program (Visa Waiver Pilot Program) by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-603). To become a program country under the pilot program, a country must have offered reciprocal privileges to U.S. citizens, and have had an average non-immigrant refusal rate of 2% for the previous two years with neither year's refusal rate exceeding 2.5%. Participation in the pilot program was originally limited to eight countries. Congress periodically passed legislation to extend the program's authorization, expand the number of countries allowed to participate in the program, and modify the qualifying criteria. Between 1986 and 1997, Congress passed the following five laws that made changes to the Visa Waiver Pilot Program:

* the Immigration Technical Corrections Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-525);

* the Immigration Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-649), which inserted further requirements for the program and removed the limit on the number of countries that could participate in the program;

* the Miscellaneous and Technical Immigration and Naturalization Amendments of 1991 (P.L. 102-232);

* the Immigration and Nationality Technical Corrections Act of 1994 (P.L. 103416), which created a probationary status to allow countries whose nonimmigrant visa refusal rates were higher than 2% but less than 3.5% to enter the program on a probationary basis; and

* the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-208), which created a new type of probationary status for countries in the program that failed to meet certain criteria, and removed the probationary status that had allowed countries with nonimmigrant visa refusal rates higher than 2% but less than 3.5% to enter the program.

The pilot program was scheduled to expire on September 30, 1997, but temporary extensions were included in the Continuing Resolutions passed in the 105th Congress. (89) The Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary (CJS) FY1998 Appropriations Act (P.L. 105-119) also contained an extension through April 30, 1998. In 1998, Congress passed legislation (P.L. 105-173) that not only extended the program through April 30, 2000, but made other changes to the standard by which countries are selected (designated) to participate in the VWP. (90) By 1999, program participation had grown to include 29 countries. (91)

Visa Waiver Permanent Program Act

On October 30, 2000, the Visa Waiver Permanent Program Act was signed into law (P.L. 106396). The statutory authority for the Visa Waiver Pilot Program had expired on April 30, 2000, but in the interim, the Commissioner of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) (92) exercised the Attorney General's parole authority to extend the program temporarily. (93) Besides making this program's authorization permanent, the Visa Waiver Permanent Program Act included provisions designed to strengthen documentary and reporting requirements. P.L. 106396 included provisions that

* mandated that by October 1, 2007 all entrants under the VWP must have machine-readable passports;

* required that all visa waiver program applicants be checked against lookout systems;

* required ongoing evaluations of participating countries (not less than once every five years);

* required the collection of visa waiver program arrival/departure data at air and sea ports of entry; and

* required that the calculation of visa refusal rates for determining country eligibility shall not include any refusals based on race, sex, or disability. (94)

At the time, many maintained that P.L. 106-396 balanced the competing concerns of facilitating travel and tightening immigration controls.

USA Patriot Act of 2001

The USA Patriot Act (P.L. 107-56), signed into law on October 26, 2001, advanced the deadline for all entrants under the VWP to have machine-readable passports to October 1, 2003, but allowed the Secretary of State to waive this requirement until October 1, 2007 if the VWP country could show that it was making progress toward issuing machine-readable passports. In addition, the USA Patriot Act directed the Secretary of State each year until 2007 to ascertain that designated VWP countries had established programs to develop tamper-resistant passports.

On September 24, 2003, the Secretary of State extended the deadline for visitors from 21 VWP countries to present a machine-readable passport at the ports of entry until October 26, 2004.95 At this time, an entrant under the VWP with a passport which is not machine-readable must obtain a visa to travel to the United States.

Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002

The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 (Border Security Act), (96) signed into law on May 14, 2002, required all VWP countries to certify that they report in a timely manner the theft of blank passports, and required, prior to admission in the United States, that all aliens who enter under the VWP are checked against a lookout system. The Border Security Act also mandated that by October 26, 2004, the government of each VWP country needed to certify that it has established a program to issue to its nationals machine-readable passports that are tamper-resistant and incorporate a biometric identifier. (97) The Border Security Act specified that any person applying for admission to the United States under the VWP must have a tamper-resistant, machine-readable passport with a biometric identifier unless the passport was issued prior to October 26, 2004. The USA Patriot Act established the deadline for all foreign nationals entering under the VWP to have machine-readable, tamper-resistant passports, and the new requirement of biometrics in the passports did not change the deadline in the USA Patriot Act for the presentation of machine-readable, tamper-resistant passports. The biometric passport requirement deadline was extended to October 27, 2005, by P.L. 108-299.98 Thus, as of October 27, 2005 (the day after the new deadline), all entrants under the VWP were required to present machine-readable, tamper-resistant passports (as required by the USA Patriot Act, and P.L. 108299), but only passports issued after October 26, 2005, were required to have a biometric identifier.

Although Congress extended the deadline for VWP countries to certify that they had a program to issue machine-readable passports with biometric identifiers, most VWP countries would have been unable to meet the new, October 26, 2005, deadline, especially if the biometric requirement could only have been fulfilled by countries who had electronic data chips in their passports (epassports). In addition, there was resistance in Congress to grant another extension of the biometric deadline. (99) As a result, the U.S. government clarified that a digitized photograph printed on a data page in the passport would count as a biometric for the October 26, 2005, requirement. Thus, only France and Italy were unable to meet the new deadline, but have since come into compliance. In addition, any passports used by VWP travelers issued after October 26, 2006, requires integrated chips with information from the data page (e-passports).

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004

P.L. 108-458, (100) the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, added the requirement that by October 26, 2006, as a condition of being in the VWP, each VWP country must certify that it is developing a program to issue tamper-resistant, machine-readable visa documents that incorporate biometric identifiers which are verifiable at the country's port of entry.

Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007

Signed into law on August 3, 2007, Section 711 of P.L. 110-53 (H.R. 1) allowed the Secretary of DHS, in consultation with the Secretary of DOS, to waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement for admission to the VWP on the date on which the Secretary of DHS certified to Congress that an air exit system is in place that can verify the departure of not less than 97% of foreign nationals that exit through U.S. airports. In addition, the Secretary of DHS also had to certify to Congress that the electronic travel authorization system (discussed below) is operational, prior to being able to waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement. Until June 30, 2009, the air exit system did not need to incorporate biometric identifiers; however, after that date, if the air exit system is unable to match an alien's biometric information with relevant watch lists and manifest information, the Secretary of DHS's authority to waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate is suspended until the air exit system has the specified biometric capacity.

For admission to the VWP, a country who receives a refusal rate waiver also has to

* meet all the security requirements of the program;

* be determined by the Secretary of DHS to have a totality of security risk mitigation measures which provide assurances that the country's participation in the program would not compromise U.S. law enforcement and security interests, or the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws;

* have had a sustained reduction in visa refusal rates, and have existing conditions for the rates to continue to decline;

* have cooperated with the United States on counterterrorism initiatives and information sharing before the date of its designation, and be expected to continue such cooperation; and

* have, during the previous fiscal year, a nonimmigrant visas refusal rate of not more than 10%, or an overstay rate that did not exceed the maximum overstay rate established by the Secretaries of DHS and DOS for countries receiving waivers of the nonimmigrant refusal rate to participate in the VWP the program.

P.L. 110-53 also specified that in determining whether to waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement, the Secretary of DHS, in consultation with the Secretary of DOS, may take into consideration other factors affecting U.S. security, such as the country's airport security and passport standards, whether the country has an effective air marshal program, and the estimated overstay rate for nationals from the country.

In addition, P.L. 110-53 made several changes to the criteria to qualify as a VWP country, which were intended to enhance the security of the program. As previously mentioned, the act mandated that the Secretary of DHS, in consultation with the Secretary of State, develop and implement an electronic travel authorization system (the system), (101) through which each alien electronically provides, in advance of travel, the biographical information necessary to determine whether the alien is eligible to travel to the United States and enter under the VWP. Aliens using the system are charged a fee that is required to be set at a level so that the cost of creating and administering the system is covered by the fees.

P.L. 110-53 also required the Secretary of DHS, no later than one year after enactment, to establish an exit system that records the departure of every alien who entered under the VWP and left the United States by air. The exit system is required to match the alien's biometric information against relevant watch lists and immigration information, and compare such biographical information against manifest information collected by airlines to confirm that the alien left the United States. (102)

Furthermore, under P.L. 110-53, to participate in the VWP, countries are required to enter into an agreement with the United States to report or make available through INTERPOL information about the theft or loss of passports. The agreements have to specify strict time limits for the reporting of this information. In addition, to be part of the VWP, countries have to accept the repatriation of any citizen, former citizen, or national against whom a final order of removal is issued no later than three weeks after the order is issued. Also, the countries are required to enter into an agreement with the United States to share information regarding whether a national of that country traveling to the United States represents a threat to U.S. security or welfare. The act requires the Secretary of DHS to provide technical assistance to VWP countries to assist the countries in fulfilling the requirements of the program.

In addition, P.L. 110-53 requires the Director of National Intelligence to conduct intelligence assessments of countries. For new VWP countries, the reviews must occur prior to their admittance into the VWP. For existing VWP countries, the reviews should be done in conjunction with the biannual country reviews.

The act also requires the Director of National Intelligence to immediately inform the Secretary of DHS of any current and credible threat of imminent danger to the United States or its citizens that originates from a VWP country. Upon receiving such notification, the Secretary of DHS, in consultation with the Secretary of DHS, may suspend a country from the VWP without any prior notice. Once the country's participation in the VWP no longer poses a security threat, the Secretary of DHS shall reinstate the country in the VWP.

Author Contact Information

Alison Siskin

Specialist in Immigration Policy

asiskin@crs.loc.gov, 7-0260

(1) "B" visa refers to the subparagraph in the Immigration and Nationalization Act (INA [section]101(a)(15)(B)).

(2) To obtain a nonimmigrant visa, individuals submit written applications and undergo interviews and background checks. For more information on temporary admissions, see CRS Report RL31381, U.S. Immigration Policy on Temporary Admissions, by Ruth Ellen Wasem.

(3) For more information on visa issuances, see CRS Report RL31512, Visa Issuances: Policy, Issues, and Legislation, by Ruth Ellen Wasem.

(4) The Secretary of Homeland Security administers the VWP program. Section 402 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (HSA; P.L. 107-296), signed into law on November 25, 2002, states: "The Secretary [of Homeland Security], acting through the Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security, shall be responsible for the following: ... (4) Establishing and administering rules, ... governing the granting of visas or other forms of permission, including parole, to enter the United States to individuals who are not a citizen or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States."

(5) ESTA became operational for all VWP countries on January 12, 2009.

(6) This provision was amended by P.L. 106-406 to provide extended voluntary departure to nonimmigrants who enter under the VWP and require medical treatment.

(7) Foreign nationals seeking asylum must demonstrate a well-founded fear that if returned home they will be persecuted based on one of five characteristics: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. For more on asylum, see CRS Report R41753, Asylum and "Credible Fear" Issues in U.S. Immigration Policy, by Ruth Ellen Wasem.

(8) INTERPOL is the world's largest international police organization, with 188 member countries. For more information on INTERPOL see, http://www.interpol.int/public/icpo/default.asp.

(9) Prior to P.L. 110-53 (signed into law on August 3, 2007), VWP countries only had to certify that they were reporting thefts of blank passports.

(10) An emergency is defined as (1) the overthrow of a democratically elected government; (2) war; (3) a severe breakdown in law and order in the country; (4) a severe economic collapse; and (5) any other extraordinary event in the program country where that country's participation could threaten the law enforcement or security interests of the United States. INA [section]217(c)(5)(B).

(11) Beginning in December 2001, Argentina experienced a serious economic crisis, including defaulting on loans by foreign creditors, devaluation of its currency, and increased levels of unemployment and poverty. For more information on the financial collapse in Argentina see CRS Report RS21072, The Financial Crisis in Argentina, by J. F. Hornbeck.

(12) In addition, many Argentine nationals were trying to use the VWP to obtain entry to the United States solely for the purpose of proceeding to the Canadian border and pursuing an asylum claim in Canada. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, between 1999 and 2001, more than 2,500 Argentines filed refugee claims in Canada after transiting the United States under the VWP. Federal Register, February 21, 2002, vol. 67, no. 35, p. 7944.

(13) While the number of Argentine nonimmigrant travelers to the United States declined between 1998 and 2000, the number of Argentines denied admission at the border and the number of interior apprehensions increased. The Department of Justice (DOJ) in consultation with DOS determined that Argentina's participation in the VWP was inconsistent with the United States' interest in enforcing its immigration laws. (The Department of Homeland Security did not exist in February 2002, and authority for the VWP resided with the Attorney General in the DOJ.) Federal Register, February 21, 2002, vol. 67, no. 35, pp. 7943-7945.

(14) Between 2000 and 2003, Uruguay experienced a recession causing its citizens to enter under the VWP to live and work illegally in the United States. In 2002, Uruguayan nationals were two to three times more likely than all nonimmigrants on average to have been denied admission at the border. Uruguayan air arrivals had an apparent overstay rate more than twice the rate of the average apparent overstay rate for all air arrival nonimmigrants. Federal Register, March 7, 2003, vol. 68, no. 45, pp. 10954-10957.

(15) "Disqualification rate" is defined as the percentage of nationals from a country who applied for admission as a nonimmigrant who either violated the terms of the nonimmigrant visa, who were excluded from admission or who withdrew their application for admission as a nonimmigrant.

(16) The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-208).

(17) Federal Register, March 7, 2003, vol. 68, no. 45, pp. 10954-10957.

(18) P.L. 110-53 (H.R. 1), signed into law on August 3, 2007. For more details on the changes to the VWP in this act, see Appendix, "Legislative History."

(19) There was disagreement between some critics and DHS regarding exactly what needed to be verified. Some contend that Congressional intent was to have a functional entry-exit system that would be able to match arrival and departure records and know which aliens failed to depart from the United States rather than just matching the entry records with the records of those who were known to have departed from the United States. For example, see S. 203 introduced in the 111th Congress, which attempted to clarify the language in this provision. U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, The Visa Waiver Program: Mitigating Risks to Ensure Safety to All Americans, 110th Cong., 2nd sess., September 24, 2008.

(20) DHS determined that the law permitted it to utilize the waiver when ESTA was functional but before it was mandatory for all VWP travelers. Critics did not agree with this interpretation and thought that ESTA should have been mandatory for all VWP travelers before new countries were admitted to the program. When the new countries entered the program, their citizens were required to use ESTA before travelling to the United States. U.S. Government Accountability Office, Visa Waiver Program: Actions Are Needed to Improve Management of the Expansion Process, and to Assess and Mitigate Program Risks, GAO-08-967, September 2008. (Hereafter GAO, Visa Waiver Program: Actions Are Needed to Improve Management of the Expansion Process, and to Assess and Mitigate Program Risks.)

(21) U.S. Government Accountability Office, Homeland Security: Key US-VISIT Components at Varying Stages of Completion, but Integrated and Reliable Schedule Needed, GAO-10-13, November 19, 2009, p. 1.

(22) Entrants under the VWP from VWP countries that receive a waiver of the nonimmigrant refusal rate (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, and South Korea) had to use the system starting on the date of their formal admission to the program. For all the countries except Malta, that date was November 17, 2008. Malta was formally admitted to the VWP on December 30, 2008. Department of Homeland Security, "Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) Advisory Statement," November 6, 2008. Department of Homeland Security, "Electronic System for Travel Authorization: Mandatory Compliance Required for Travel Under the Visa Waiver Program," 73 Federal Register 67354, November 13, 2008.

(23) The fee was instituted on September 8, 2010. The $14 fee includes $4 to cover the costs of administering ESTA and $10 for the travel promotion fee established by Congress in the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 ([section]9 of P.L. 111- 145). Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, "DHS, CBP Announce Interim Final Rule For ESTA Fee," press release, August 6, 2010.

(24) Absent of ESTA, the first time an alien traveling to the United States under the VWP was screened was at the airport after the alien checked in for the flight.

(25) A person is not required to apply for their own travel authorization under ESTA. Friends, relatives, personnel in the travel industry, and other third parties may apply for the traveler.

(26) In most cases, the approval process is almost instantaneous. Under statute, ESTA determinations are not reviewable by the courts.

(27) The following information is required for ESTA:

* biographical information including name, birth date, country of citizenship, country of residence, telephone number;

* passport information including number, issuing country, issuance date, and expiration date; and

* travel information including city where departing from, flight number, and address while in the United States.

According to DHS, when developing ESTA, the department had to balance the need for biographic information with the requirement that the participating countries did not view applying for an approval under ESTA as equivalent to applying for a visa. If countries had interpreted applying for an authorization under ESTA as having the same burden as applying for a visa, these countries might have required that U.S. citizens traveling to their countries obtain a visa.

(28) These eligibility questions pertain to whether the alien would be inadmissible on health, criminal, or terrorist grounds, or because the alien had previously violated immigration law (e.g., been deported). Other eligibility questions include whether the alien has: (1) violated a child custody agreement with a U.S. citizen; (2) previously been denied a visa to travel to the United States; and (3) asserted immunity from prosecution.

(29) It was the intention that ESTA would eventually replace the paper I-94W form. Department of Homeland Security, "Changes to the Visa Waiver Program To Implement the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) Program," Federal Register, June 9, 2008, vol. 73, no. 11, pp. 32440-32453. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Boarder Protection, "Definition of Form I-94 to Include Electronic Format," 78 Federal Register 18457, March 27, 2013.

(30) U.S. Government Accountability Office, Visa Waiver Program: DHS Has Implemented the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, but Further Steps Needed to Address Potential Program Risks, GAO-11-335, May 5, 2011. (Hereafter, GAO, Visa Waiver Program: DHS Has Implemented the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, but Further Steps Needed to Address Potential Program Risks.)

(31) U.S. Government Accountability Office, Visa Waiver Program: Additional Actions Needed to Address Risks and Strengthen Overstay Enforcement, GAO-12-287T, December 7, 2011. (Hereafter, GAO, Visa Waiver Program: Additional Actions Needed to Address Risks and Strengthen Overstay Enforcement.).

(32) All VWP applicants are issued nonimmigrant visa waiver arrival/departure forms (Form I-94W).

(33) ADIS feeds information to the Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS). IBIS is a database of suspect individuals, businesses, vehicles, aircraft, and vessels that is used during inspections at the border. IBIS interfaces with the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the Treasury Enforcement and Communications System (TECS II), National Automated Immigration Lookout System (NAILS), Non-immigrant Information System (NIIS), CLASS and TIPOFF terrorist databases. Because of the numerous systems and databases that interface with IBIS, the system is able to obtain such information as whether an alien is admissible, an alien's criminal information, and whether an alien is wanted by law enforcement. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, IBIS-General Information, Washington, DC, July, 31, 2013; https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/151/kw/ ibis%20fact%20sheet/session/L3RpbWUvMTM5MTAyMTM4NC9zaWQvci04amVDTGw%3D/suggested/1.

(34) For more information on US-VISIT, see CRS Report R43356, Border Security: Immigration Inspections at Ports of Entry, by Lisa Seghetti.

(35) Lookout databases such as TIPOFF, which is integrated with CLASS, contain information on aliens who are inadmissible for entry into the United States. The National Security Entry-Exit System (NSEERS) and the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) are also used during secondary inspections. Immigration inspectors may access the National Automated Immigration Lookout System (NAILS II), which is a text-based system that interfaces with IBIS and CLASS. For more information, see CRS Report RL31381, U.S. Immigration Policy on Temporary Admissions, by Ruth Ellen Wasem.

(36) Department of Homeland Security, "Collection of Alien Biometric Data Upon Exit From the United States at Air and Sea Ports of Departure," 73 Federal Register 22065, April 24, 2008.

(37) Personal conversation with Department of Homeland Security Congressional Affairs, September 22, 2008.

(38) P.L. 110-329.

(39) One pilot tested DHS's recommended solution that carriers collect biometrics from passengers; the other pilot tested CBP officers collecting passenger biometrics at the boarding gate.

(40) U.S. Government Accountability Office, Homeland Security: Key US-VISIT Components at Varying Stages of Completion, but Integrated and Reliable Schedule Needed, GAO-10-13, November 19, 2009, p. 1.

(41) Temporary visitors include aliens who entered with B visas, those who entered under the Guam Visa Waiver Program, and those who entered under the VWP.

(42) In FY2012, there were 47.7 million people who entered as temporary visitors. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: FY2012, September 2013.

(43) Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, multiple years.

(44) In contrast, in FY2011 the number of people entering under the VWP grew by a smaller percentage (7.4%) than the total number of visitors admitted (14.2%).

(45) The example of Argentina was frequently used to illustrate this relationship; during the first year Argentina was in the VWP, tourism from that country to the United States grew by 11.5%. Some argue that because of the trade and tourism growth additional VWP membership could generate for the United States, this factor should be added to the criteria used to select participating countries. Other proponents of the VWP, however, contend that the criteria should not be broadened to include tourism potential if the thresholds of refusal rates and visa overstay violations are weakened, arguing that these provisions are essential to safeguard and control our borders.

(46) For example, in his testimony before the House Immigration and Claims Subcommittee on February 28, 2002, William S. Norman, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Travel Industry Association of America, stated that it would take hundreds of new consular staff and tens of millions of dollars to issue visas to visitors currently entering under the VWP. Since Mr. Norman testified, the number of people entering under the VWP has increased by more than 5 million entrants per year. (See Figure 1.)

(47) U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, Visa Waiver Program Oversight: Risks and Benefits of the Program, 112th Cong., 1st sess., December 7, 2011.

(48) IAFIS is a national fingerprint and criminal history system. IDENT is a DHS-wide system for the storage and processing of biometric and limited biographic information. IDENT is the primary DHS-wide system for the biometric identification and verification of individuals encountered in DHS mission-related processes. For more information on IAFIS, see Federal Bureau of Investigation, "The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS)," press release, http://www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/iafis.htm. For more information on IDENT, see Department of Homeland Security, Privacy Impact Assessment for the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT), Washington, DC, July 31, 2006, p. 2, http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/privacy/privacy_pia_usvisit_ident_final.pdf.

(49) CRS Report R43356, Border Security: Immigration Inspections at Ports of Entry, by Lisa Seghetti.

(50) For an example of this argument, see "Congressman Claims Allowing Poland Visa-Free Travel to the US Would Pose Security Threat," workpermit.com, June 20, 2012, http://www.workpermit.com/news/2012-06-20/us/ congressman-claims-allowing-poland-visa-free-travel-to-us-would-pose-security-threat.htm.

(51) For an example of this argument, see Heritage Foundation, The Visa Waiver Program: A Security Partnership, Fact Sheet #66, Washington, DC, June 25, 2010.

(52) There is not a specific requirement to present an e-passport when entering under the VWP. Any passports issued after October 26, 2006, and used by VWP travelers to enter the United States are required to have integrated chips with information from the data page (e-passports). Most passports are valid for 10 years, and thus, it is likely that by October 2016, all VWP entrants will have e-passports.

(53) The length of validity of a visa is mostly dependent on reciprocity with the United States (i.e., that visas from that country for U.S. citizens are valid for the same period of time). For a full list of reciprocity schedules, see Department of State, Reciprocity Schedules, at http://travel.state.gov/visa/fees/fees_3272.html.

(54) P.L. 107-53, [section]711.

(55) Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General, The Visa Waiver Program, OIG-13-07, Washington, DC, November 2, 2012, p. 12, http://www.oig.dhs.gov/assets/Mgmt/2013/OIG_13-07_Nov12.pdf.

(56) Testimony of James Jay Carafano, U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, Next Steps for the Visa Waiver Program, 112th Cong., 1st sess., December 7, 2011.

(57) Testimony of David F. Heyman, U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, Next Steps for the Visa Waiver Program, 112th Cong., 1st sess., December 7, 2011.

(58) Statement of Chairman Elton Gallegly, U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, Next Steps for the Visa Waiver Program, 112th Cong., 1st sess., December 7, 2011.

(59) For an example of this argument, see Heritage Foundation, The Visa Waiver Program: A Security Partnership, Fact Sheet #66, Washington, DC, June 25, 2010.

(60) For examples of this argument, see James Jay Carafano, With a Little Help from Our Friends: Enhancing Security by Expanding the Visa Waiver Program, Heritage Foundation, Executive Memorandum no. 991, February 3, 2006; and Jena Baker McNeill, Time to Decouple Visa Waiver Program from Biometric Exit, Heritage Foundation, Web Memorandum no. 2867, April 15, 2010.

(61) In 2008, DHS admitted 8 new countries into the program. These eight countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, and South Korea) received a waiver of the nonimmigrant refusal rate. Greece was admitted in 2010, and Taiwan was admitted in 2012. As the nonimmigrant refusal rate waiver has not been in effect since 2009, both countries had nonimmigrant refusal rates under 3%.

(62) In 2005, the George W. Bush administration began providing countries interested in joining the VWP with "road maps" to aid the countries in meeting the program's criteria. Some of the countries complained that since the "road maps" do not contain milestones or time tables, it was difficult to measure the amount of progress made towards fulfilling the criteria for VWP membership. There were 13 "road map" countries. They were Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. Eight of these countries have been admitted to the VWP. The issues surrounding the "road maps," were the focus of an event held by the Heritage Foundation on February 8, 2006. The event was entitled, "Fighting a More Effective War on Terrorism: Expanding the Visa Waiver Program " The featured speakers were Ambassadors Petr Kolar of the Czech Republic, John Bruton of the EU, Janusz Reiter of Poland, and Andras Simonyi of Hungary. A recording of the event is available at http://www.heritage.org/Press/Events/ev020806a.cfm.

(63) For examples, see "Polish President to Remind Obama of Visa Promise," Polskie Radio, September 9, 2012, http://www.thenews.pl/1/10/Artykul/113122,Polish-president-to-remind-Obama-of-visa-promise; and Nowy Dziennik Wuem, translated by Aleksangra Slabisz from Polish, "Polish Students Appeal to White House on Visa Waiver," Voices of NY, October 10, 2012.

(64) Josh Rogin, "Obama: Poland will be admitted to the visa waiver program," http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com, December 8, 2010, http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/12/08/ obama_poland_will_be_admitted_to_the_visa_waiver_program.

(65) Poland's FY2013 adjusted B-visa refusal rate was 10.8%. Thus, Poland would not meet the refusal rate requirement if the nonimmigrant refusal rate waiver was reinstated. Department of State, Adjusted Refusal Rate-B-Visas Only by Nationality: Fiscal Year 2013, http://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/Non-Immigrant-Statistics/ RefusalRates/FY13.pdf.

(66) GAO, Visa Waiver Program: Additional Actions Needed to Address Risks and Strengthen Overstay Enforcement.

(67) The issue of LASP has been ongoing. VWP passports are supposedly highly valued since the bearer does not need a visa to enter the United States. Most recently see GAO, Visa Waiver Program: Additional Actions Needed to Address Risks and Strengthen Overstay Enforcement, 2011.

(68) The United States began providing information on LASP to the U.S. National Central Bureau of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) in May 2004. The INTERPOL LASP database is available to law enforcement and immigration authorities worldwide. Ibid, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspections, Evaluations, and Special Reviews, A Review of the Use of Stolen Passports from Visa Waiver Countries to Enter the United States, OIG-05-07, December 2004, pp. 7-8.

(69) In the past, before access to and the content of the INTERPOL database was reliable, DHS required countries to submit LASP data to the U.S. Embassies in those countries.

(70) GAO, Visa Waiver Program: Actions Are Needed to Improve Management of the Expansion Process, and to Assess and Mitigate Program Risks, p.5.

(71) E-mail from Department of Homeland Security, Office of Legislative Affairs, January 8, 2013.

(72) GAO, Visa Waiver Program: Additional Actions Needed to Address Risks and Strengthen Overstay Enforcement, pp. 6-7.

(73) If a person submits five visa applications in a year and all are denied, they are all counted toward the refusal rate. However, if such a person submits five applications that are denied and then a sixth application that is approved, none of the previous applications are counted as refusals in the calculation of the adjusted refusal rate that is used in the determination of VWP eligibility. Personal Communication with the Department of State, Office of Congressional Affairs, July 19, 2010.

(74) Telephone conversation with DHS Office of Legislative Affairs, December 1, 2011.

(75) As mentioned above, in December 2011 DHS announced an agreement with Canada to share entry data as a method to enhance both country's exit records.

(76) [section]214(b) of the INA generally presumes that all aliens seeking admission to the United States are coming to live permanently; as a result, aliens seeking to qualify for a B visa (and most other nonimmigrant visas) must demonstrate that they are not coming to reside permanently in the United States. CRS Report R41104, Immigration Visa Issuances and Grounds for Exclusion: Policy and Trends, by Ruth Ellen Wasem.

(77) Determinations of inadmissibility are also made by CBP officers at ports of entry.

(78) The so-called grounds of inadmissibility under INA [section]212(a) include health-related grounds; criminal history; security and terrorist concerns; public charge (e.g., indigence); seeking to work without proper labor certification; illegal entrants and immigration law violations; ineligibility for citizenship; and aliens who are illegally present or have previously been removed.

(79) S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act was passed by the Senate on June 27, 2013.

(80) It is not clear whether the requirement would be that both the overstay and refusal rates must be less than 3% or if only one of the rates must be less than 3%.

(81) Department of State, Adjusted Refusal Rate-B-Visas Only by Nationality: Fiscal Year 2013, http://travel.state.gov/ content/dam/visas/Statistics/Non-Immigrant-Statistics/RefusalRates/FY13.pdf.

(82) The statutory language concerning the VWP eligibility refers to countries. (See INA [section]217, 8 U.S.C. [section]1187.)

(83) Israel's FY2013 B visas refusal rate was 9.7%. Department of State, Adjusted Refusal Rate-B-Visas Only by Nationality: Fiscal Year 2013, http://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/Non-Immigrant-Statistics/ RefusalRates/FY13.pdf.

(84) One of the issues concerning Israel's participation in the VWP is their treatment of U.S. citizens of Arab and Palestinian decent who are attempting to enter or exit Israel. For more on this issue see, U.S. Department of State, Israel, The West Bank and Gaza Travel Warning, updated February 3, 2014, http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/ english/alertswarnings/israel-travel-warning.html#.

(85) Jonathan Broder, "AIPAC-Backed Israel Bill Stalls Over Visa Waiver Provision," cq.com, April 29, 2013. See also Yousef Munayyer, "A Lopsided U.S. Visa-Waiver," New York Times, October 28, 2013.

(86) Broder, op. cit.

(87) For more on these issues, see CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti.

(88) CARICOM member and associate members include Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos Islands.

(89) An extension of the pilot program was included in the first Continuing Resolution (P.L. 105-56 [section]117) for FY1998. The five subsequent Continuing Resolutions--P.L. 105-64, P.L. 105-68, P.L. 105-69, P.L. 105-71, and P.L. 105-84-- simply extended the expiration date of the provisions in the first Continuing Resolution for FY1998 (P.L. 105-56).

(90) Originally, to qualify for the Visa Waiver Pilot Program countries needed to have had an average nonimmigrant refusal rate of no more than 2% over the past two fiscal years with neither year going above 2.5%. P.L. 105-173 added the criteria that a country could have a nonimmigrant refusal rate of less than 3% for the previous year and qualify for the program.

(91) The 29 countries were: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay. Argentina was removed from the VWP in February 2002, and Uruguay was removed in April 2003. From April 2003 until November 2008, the VWP included 27 countries. As of January 2014, there are 37 countries participating in the VWP.

(92) The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296) abolished the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and effective March 1, 2003, transferred most of its functions to three bureaus in the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS): Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS); Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); and, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

(93) Parole is a temporary authorization to enter the United States and is normally granted when the alien's entry is determined to be in the public interest (INA [section]212(d)(5)(A)).

(94) Many of these requirements were included to address shortcomings in the program, as identified by the Inspectors General of both the Departments of Justice and State.

(95) The 21 countries granted a postponement were: Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. On November 11, 2003, Luxembourg was granted an extension of the deadline.

(96) P.L. 107-173. The original bill, H.R. 3525, was sponsored by Representative F. James Sensenbrenner.

(97) The act tasked the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) with developing the biometric standard.

(98) Signed into law on August 9, 2004.

(99) For example, see letter from Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., to Luc Frieden, President of the European Counsel of Ministers, and Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the European Commission, April 7, 2005.

(100) The original bill, H.R. 2845, was sponsored by Senator Susan M. Collins and signed into law on December 17, 2004.

(101) The system as implemented is known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

(102) This exit system is not necessarily the same as the exit system required for the nonimmigrant refusal rate waiver authority. DHS appears to have incorporated this requirement as part of the exit portion of automated entry and exit data system known as US-VISIT.

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