US Adds Visa Restrictions to Libyan, Somali and Yemeni TravellersMarch 2, 2016 in United States
On 18 February, the United States Department of Homeland Security announced that the US has added Libya, Somalia and Yemen as “countries of concern” under its visa waiver programme. The three additional nations join Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria as countries that are subject to restrictions for those seeking to travel to the US. The move will effectively make US visa procedures more stringent for those individuals who have visited these countries in the past five years.
The new restrictions were imposed under a law that was passed in the wake of the November 2015 attacks in Paris, France, which were attributed to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. According to the new regulations, citizens of US allies who previously had been able to travel to the US without first obtaining a visa will now have to apply to US consulates for such visas if they have travelled to those designated countries in the past five years. The Homeland Security Department has disclosed that the new requirements will not automatically affect nationals from visa-waiver countries who also are dual nationals of Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The department did note however that under the new procedures, the Homeland Security secretary can waive the more stringent visa requirements on a case-by-case basis, adding that such waives would primarily be available to journalists or individuals travelling on behalf of international organizations of humanitarian groups.
The latest visa waiver restrictions were imposes as US agencies sharpen their focus on the threat posed by Islamist foreign fighters and seek to make it more difficult for them to take advantage of the US visa waiver programme. Under the current programme, citizens of thirty-eight, mainly European countries, are allowed to travel to the US for up to ninety days without a visa. Prior to travelling to the US, citizens of visa waiver countries must register online using a US government system, known as ESTA. This system effectively gives US agencies the opportunity to check out visa waiver applicants’ backgrounds through intelligence and law enforcement data bases before giving them permission to board US-bound flights.
After the November 2015 Paris terror attacks, the US visa waiver programme came under harsh scrutiny in the US Congress as some of the militants behind the attacks were European nationals, who had become radicalized after visiting Syria and who were theoretically eligible for US visa waives. Homeland Security has disclosed that it will continue to work with the State Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in order to determine whether additional countries should be added to the list.