'Visa waiver' travelers would be fingerprinted under Senate bill

Measure is the latest to propose tightening US border control since the Nov 13 shootings and bombings in France by IS


Reuters December 02, 2015
The measure is the latest to propose tightening US border control since the November 13 shootings and bombings in France by Islamic State. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON: Travelers to the United States from "visa waiver" nations would have to provide fingerprints and photos under a US Senate bill to intensify scrutiny of foreigners, one of several border-tightening measures offered since the Paris attacks.

The measure is the latest to propose tightening US border control since the November 13 shootings and bombings in France by Islamic State militants that left 130 people dead, triggering a wave of fear across the United States.

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The bill was introduced on Tuesday by a bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Jeff Flake. It would also require individuals who had visited Syria or Iraq in the last five years to get a traditional US tourist visa before heading for the United States, rather than taking advantage of the "visa waiver" program.

Under that program, travelers from 38 countries, including much of Western Europe, can embark for the United States without first getting a visa from a US consulate or embassy in their home country. About 20 million visitors a year enter the United States under the program, which allows them to stay 90 days.

US officials privately admit they are more worried about possible Islamic State or other Europe-based militants using the visa waiver program to enter the United States than they are by the possibility that would-be attackers might hide among droves of US-bound refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq.

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The Feinstein-Flake bill would also increase the fee charged by the United States to visa waiver travelers, now $14. Travelers who get visas from US embassies or consulates now must pay a fee of $160. Feinstein and Flake did not say how high they wanted to raise the fee for visa waiver travelers.

The bill was greeted with skepticism by a travel industry representative. Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of the US Travel Association, said a pre-travel fingerprinting requirement could deter travelers from the United States.

"The US travel community strongly supports sensible security enhancements to the visa waiver program. What we cannot support are steps that ultimately dismantle the program and set back America's economy and our efforts to protect the homeland," the trade organisation said in a statement.

Obama administration officials said they have already taken steps to tighten scrutiny of visa waiver travelers.

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In August, the administration said it would require the use of an Interpol database containing reports of lost and stolen passports to screen passengers, and the reporting of suspected "foreign fighters" to international security agencies such as Interpol, a US official said.

However, the administration had not proposed either requiring visa waiver passengers to submit fingerprints in advance of travel or increasing fees. A congressional official said the fingerprinting requirement in the bill would most directly affect first-time travelers to the United States.

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