On December 15, Congress reached a deal on the FY2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which funds the federal government through September 30, 2016. Congress is expected to vote on the bill later this week. The bill contains significant changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that are contained in HR 158, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, passed by the House of Representatives earlier in the month in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. The Omnibus Spending Bill also extends the EB-5, Conrad 30, Special Immigrant Religious Workers, and E-Verify programs through the end of FY2016, however, without any reforms. It does not, however, include proposals to end the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
The Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act, now part of the 2016 Omnibus Bill, revokes VWP travel privileges for all citizens of VWP countries who are dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan. This revocation of VWP privileges would apply to all nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan even if they have never resided in or traveled to any of these four countries. Because these countries confer citizenship through naturalization, marriage, or descent, many individuals will be barred from using the program, even if they have never been to Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan. Some examples include:
- Dual-national French citizen (born to Syrian father) traveling to U.S. for business conferences and meetings;
- Dual-national German citizen (born to Iranian father) traveling to U.S. on vacation;
- Dual-national British citizen (born to Syrian father) traveling to the U.S. to take care of grandchild.
VWP travel privileges are also terminated for all who have been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan at any time on or after March 1, 2011. There is a very narrow exception for certain military personnel and government officials. All other travelers would automatically lose their VWP privileges. Affected travelers would include scholars, refugee caseworkers, humanitarian aid workers, human rights investigators, and others.
New passport requirements are also incorporated into the bill. Starting April 1, 2016, VWP travelers will be required to use electronic passports that are machine-readable and fraud resistant. The program country will also be required to validate these passports.