US Wants to Limit Visa Waiver Program, May Mean Visas for US Travelers to Europe

When drafts of the President’s Executive Order that became the travel ban were initially being leaked, there was reporting that suggested it would would suspend the Visa Waiver Program.

The Visa Waiver Program:

  • Citizens of 38 countries apply online for entry to the US for up to 90 days
  • The ESTA (electronic travel authority) is in lieu of a formal visa, which requires an interview
  • Suspending this program would require visitors to the US to obtain the formal visa instead, scheduling US embassy interviews

Copyright: prestonia / 123RF Stock Photo

Ultimately that’s not what was in the Executive Order, there was a misunderstanding and references to the Visa Waiver Interview Program (visa renewals) were reported as being for the wrong program with a similar name.

Indeed since then the US has express strong confidence in security in Europe despite attacks at the Paris and Brussels airports. Strong European security is the excuse for targeting even the most secure Mideast airports with an electronics ban (while not targeting Lagos, Nigeria where Delta flies and Boko Haram operates, or Baku, Azerbaijan or airports in China).

Now Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says the Visa Waiver Program needs to be revisited after all, and precisely because he sees a threat coming from Europe as ISIS suffers defeats in the Mideast and some members of the group spread out to the West — but they really want to come to the U.S.

While foreign fighters with Islamic State may initially return to their home countries, Kelly said their “real intent” is to travel to the U.S., which is “the Super Bowl in terms of terrorists.”

“They want to get here, they want to do us harm,” he said. “That’s my concern now that we’re winning in Iraq and soon to win in Syria, that those fighters go back to their homes in Europe and then very possibly make the trip to the United States.”

Copyright: andreyuu / 123RF Stock Photo

Fundamentally terrorism is actually pretty hard. And the number of people who want to die for their cause is small. Occasionally small groups pull of plots but they’re fewer and farther between than we suspect. And we’ve altered our entire framework for living and travel in response and that’s lamentable.

Meanwhile limitations on the Visa Waiver Program that don’t allow all EU member states to have access have already led the European Parliament to push for Americans to have to get a visa to go to Europe. Most international travel rules are based on reciprocity, so crackdowns in the U.S. may have some repercussions for travel abroad by Americans as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve got no issue with getting a visa to go to Europe if it prevents one American citizen from being killed on US soil by someone who hates America and what the USA stands for.

  2. airports in china have very strong security measure. you can try buy bringing a battery over at 30000mA and see if you can still keep it.

  3. Terrorists have it much easier in Europe, and there are many more “Super Bowl” targets there than in USA. Visa reciprocity has its limits. Ask the Poles and Romanians who want to visit USA.

  4. Basically on 9/11 the terrorists won. Not because they brought down some buildings which can be rebuilt. Not because 2000 people died (which is a tragedy) but more die crossing the street every year. But because it taught Americans to live in fear and let the govt. turn into a security state where anything is justified in the name of security. If the terrorists hated the American way of life they are all laughing in their cups in their version of hell because it sure did change America. And Bush and Obama helped bring about this calamity – a land of the free (where the NSA records every phone call) and a home of the brave (where people are afraid to take a flight without an electronic strip search of 60 year old grandmas).

  5. You are much more likely to die from an American nutcase with a gun or assault rifle than you are from a tourist from Europe. Actually, that poor tourist is much more likely to die here than at home.
    This is going to cost the U.S. a huge hunk of change…lost tourism dollars, and cost of processing all the travel visas. Never mind the cost of getting everyone through airport immigration.

  6. @RMC Exactly how many tourists die from an American with a gun so far? This is called preventive control. Don’t the recent attacks in Europe ring a bell? Don’t know about you, but I am willing to add a little inconvenience to my travel if it could potentially save a life from terrorist attack.

  7. More and more freedoms go away. More and more economic links are limited or removed. More and more cultural exchange and interaction is curtailed.

    If the objective of terrorists is to cause fear and overreaction then surely they are are seeing success.

  8. “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
    — Benjamin Franklin

  9. @rjb, so do you also avoid any big city in the U.S. like L.A. where more people get murdered every year than U.S. soldiers getting killed by terrorists abroad?

  10. “That’s my concern now that we’re winning in Iraq and soon to win in Syria, that those fighters go back to their homes in Europe .”
    What news is he watching, soon winning in Syria?!? And me being a Euripean citizen I’ve never heard of terrorists having their home here.

  11. Europeans are cowards. They will not institute visas for US citizens. There have been hundreds of similar blog posts with no useful informational contribution whatsoever.
    Slow news day material

  12. So, What John Kelly is saying is that if we win, we lose. Who needs terrorists when you have John Kelly?

  13. @Jon: “# of people killed by gun violence in the USA since 1981 = 1,139,863”

    And even then, at least 60 percent of these were suicides.

  14. Good-bye tourism to the United States. Europeans are already sick of the baloney having to schedule visa interviews for various visa types WEEKS in advance and going through the same numbskull vetting process as other countries. End the visa waiver program and it is curtains for tens of thousands of US jobs in the tourism industry. Sorry Mr. Kelly you need to get a grip on reality — stop lumping 300+ million Europeans together as an amorphous blob that you can push around ad ininfitum. There comes a breaking point in all systems …

  15. Such cowardly acts of fear driving these policies. As a retired Army officer I am embarrassed by our inability to stride with confidence and set a courageous example for the world. Such long term economic damage we inflict upon ourselves.

  16. Let’s remind ourselves the times in history when isolationist policies made a city/country/empire great…

    Oh yeah that has not yet happened once.

  17. I’m not going to defend the indefensible executive order, but you are wrong about Lagos. The security there is much higher than US airports. Everybody is thoroughly screened after immigration and then again at the gate where your carry-on luggage is opened and pawed by security personnel and you are subject to additional wanding and what would be characterized as a TSA pat down. Yes, boko haram operates in the far north of the country, but has rarely struck in the southern half of Nigeria including Lagos.

  18. @Jon, At least 1 Australian died in US from Gun Crime, drive by shooters.

    0 Americans died in Australia from Gun crime. This sounds like an own-goal, playing to the politics, rather than doing anything that will make a difference, and killing american jobs as well…

  19. @Boraxo but have you been to Abu Dhabi for a US departure? US preclearance there. You go through a separate security screening. It’s overseen by the US. You go through passport control and customers in Abu Dhabi, US officers. It’s US monitoring of closed circuit video. The US has both video and audio monitoring inside the preclearance premium lounge. There’s enough confidence in the process there that passengers land in the US as though they’ve gotten off a domestic flight without further checks.

    Are you suggesting that Abu Dhabi’s security procedures somehow don’t measure up to Baku’s which is not subject to the ban?

    As for Boko Haram they’ve claimed attacks in Lagos, and Lagos plots have been uncovered as well. A real honest to goodness terror threat operates nearby and I’m not suggesting the airport is somehow their primary base of operation..

  20. In a sense it is John Kelly’s job to speculate and offer ideas about possible problems. It’s the job of serious people in Congress, the judiciary and the Administration to weigh his ideas against real risks, real costs and real consequences, and they seem to be much more inclined toward control than freedom these days. I think the isolationist, protectionist security state is a bad thing, but I don’t see a path right now toward changing it. Kudos to Gary for continuing his solid analysis of the dubious benefits, poor implementation, and deterioration of our liberties that characterize Kelly’s policy initiatives.

  21. I am old enough to have traveled before 1988, and if one looks at the history books there was all sorts of violence happening worldwide. I traveled without cell phones and computers, which did not exist as we know them today. When we allow fear to be the rule of the day, then we have lost our freedom. Oh, how I wish the travel of the old days still existed. Get to the airport 2 hours ahead, slide into seat, get off plane, disappear into the wild blue yonder, hope for the best on adventure travel, and get back on the plane to go home. Now, the whole process is a killjoy.

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