The United States government’s tightened travel rules regarding terrorist-ridden countries such as Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Syria have been making life more difficult for UK citizens entering the US via the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP).
The law under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act) which took effect on Thursday, January 21 2016 revoked the current ESTA eligibility statuses of Britons with dual nationalities of any of the aforementioned countries or those who have visited them in the past five years. “People who have listed dual nationality with one of the four countries will have their permits revoked”, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on its website.
These countries are considered by the United States to either be hotbeds of Islamic State activities, or to be state sponsors of terrorism.
According to the US authorities, the new rules implemented under the anti-terrorism law passed in December, 2015, were to prevent the entering of visitors radicalized abroad.
These changes became necessary due to the wave of terrorist attacks including the Paris November attacks and the ISIS-inspired shooting in San Bernardino, California, which claimed 14 lives.
State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said the change reflected “a concern about European fighters returning from Syria or Iraq or elsewhere and then trying to come to the United States via visa-free travel”. He added that it was a “recognition that a threat exists and an attempt to add another layer of security.”
Until last year, UK citizens have enjoyed visa-free entry into the US but these new changes mean those who fall under these categories are required to complete an online form to apply for a non-immigrant visa. Currently, a tourist visa costs a non-refundable fee of $160 and requires the applicant to attend an interview at the US Embassy in London.
The new law which claimed its first victim even before implementation has generated lots of criticisms. There have been complaints about the six-day wait time for interview appointments and also the length of time it takes for decisions to be made.
A notable Iranian American, Dr Firouz Naderi, a senior scientist at America’s space agency, NASA, fears that new visa regulations will unfairly discriminate against himself and hundreds of thousands of Iranian Americans, even those born in the US,
“I believe this is an unjust act, to attach Iranians under the label of, ‘We need to scrutinise people coming here if they’re of Iranian background,’ to be vigilant on the issue of terrorism because they rightly point out: show us the last time there was a single act of terrorism initiated by an Iranian citizen. Basically, there aren’t any,” he posted on his Facebook page in January.
The Department of Homeland Security, however, offered exemptions to the visa rule on a case-by-case basis. It listed potential exceptions for humanitarian workers, government officials, journalists, and those travelling for “legitimate business-related purposes”.
Additionally, the new legislation does not totally ban Britons from entering the US under the Visa Waiver Programmes, but, they will have to undergo a pre-approval screening by applying through the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). See our ESTA FAQ here.