On December 1, 2015, the White House announced security enhancements to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. The program allows citizens of 38 countries temporary admission for business or pleasure for up to 90 days without first obtaining a U.S. visitors visa. Approximately 20 million visitors use the program annually.
All VWP applicants must register in advance of their proposed travel through the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA. Only VWP applicants who clear ESTA can board a U.S. bound aircraft; those who do not must apply for and receive a U.S. visitors visa before coming to the U.S. Within the last year, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State have increased their coordinated efforts to improve security.
After the Paris terrorist attacks in November, 2015, DHS is taking immediate steps to collect additional information on the ESTA application to learn which VWP applicants have traveled to terrorist active countries. The data is designed to assist in making risk assessments. DHS is exploring plans for pilot programs to capture applicant biometrics. It also seeks to identify which countries whose citizens can participate in the VWP are deficient in screening and sharing information with the United States. Coordination and sharing of information between the National Intelligence Director, the FBI, DHS, the Department of State are now in high gear. These efforts are targeted towards making current information available on each VWP applicant to keep the U.S. safe from terrorist threats by making the VWP defensively robust.