U.S. Visa-Free Travel Limited

Some travelers now must obtain a visa to enter the U.S

New Restrictions on Visa-Free Travel to the U.S.

In 2015, the Congress passed a law barring certain people from entering the U.S. without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.  Under the new law,  if during the last 5 years a person has visited one of seven specified Middle Eastern countries, he or she must apply for a visa to enter the United States.   The seven countries currently include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.  Countries are placed on the list when the U.S. determines that terrorism may be supported there.

List of Countries that participate in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
List of Countries that participate in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.

Visa-tree travel to the U.S. is generally available to 38 mostly Western countries under the Visa Waiver Program.  This program is also known as ESTA (“Electronic System for Travel Authorization”).   The new law restricts the program in the following way.  For example, most citizens of France can enter the United States for up to 90 days without a visa.  However, under the new rule, if a French citizen has traveled to Libya within the last 5 years, he or she must first obtain a visa to visit the United States.

The new law also applies to people who are dual nationals of one of the 7 countries.   Therefore, if a French citizen is simultaneously a citizen of one of the 7 countries on the list, he or she must get a visa to enter the U.S.  One thing to keep in mind is that nationality typically depends on the laws of a particular country.  Therefore, people can be a citizens of a country, even if they have never resided there or held a passport from that country.

The bar exempts those who traveled to the designated countries for military service or government work. The U.S. can also waive the bar in specific instances.

New Conditions on VWP Countries

The new law also includes additional conditions for countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program. These new conditions include passport security requirements, screening protocols and information sharing.  They also include revocation provisions for countries that do not meet the new requirements.  For more information about the law, see the websites of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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