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U.S. updates visa waiver program with new biometric capabilities


The Obama administration has made some key changes to the visa waiver program (VWP), including more effective tracking of past travel, fines for any airlines that fail to verify passport information, and helping other countries screen refugees and offer border security, according to a report by NPR.

The program allows registered travelers from 38 participating countries including France, Belgium and other European countries, to travel to the U.S. without a visa.

The past couple of months have brought promising reports to the president from the State Department and the FBI about how to incorporate more effective fingerprinting and photographing, as well as an evaluation of the state of intelligence coordination between the U.S. and its allies.

The VWP has been heavily criticized following the Paris terror attacks as a potential security gap as many argue that Europeans who have traveled to Syria to train with ISIS could then easily enter the U.S. as a result of the program.

The White House said it is working with Congress on implementing further changes that will strengthen the visa waiver program, as well as bolster relationships with VWP partners by immediately moving forward on a number of administrative actions.

For instance, the administration has identified potential pilot programs designed to assess the collection and use of biometrics (fingerprints and/or photographs) in the VWP to effectively increase security.

Additionally, the Obama administration is working to identify any countries that are deficient in key areas of cooperation, along with recommended options to establish compliance using a range of penalties and incentives available under his current authority.

This includes the more frequent submission of ESTAs and/or the suspension of ESTA issuances (new and/or renewals) for citizens of countries that do not meet key metrics.

DHS will help assist countries to better facilitate the sharing of terrorism information, particularly to include biometric pilots.

For example, DHS and the Terrorist Screening Center will help all interested VWP countries in screening refugees or asylum seekers, such as through the application of extensive terrorism information already submitted to VWP members and through piloting capability for conducting near real time biometric checks.

Finally, the secretaries of DHS, state, and commerce will promote the Global Entry program among VWP partners to further expand the traveler program, which includes biometrics.

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