The White House have announced sweeping changes to the U.S. Visa waiver program in the wake of the Paris attacks, saying that they intend to beef up security to visitors entering the United States.
New rules will allow the Department of Homeland Security to more closely screen travelers, asking them about past visits to “countries constituting a terrorist safe haven”, and collecting biometric information such as fingerprints from them.
The DHS are also asking Congress for more powers so that all visitors will be required to travel with biometric passports with embedded security chips.
The White House also wants to expand the use of a “preclearance program” in foreign airports to allow U.S. border officials to collect and screen biometric information before visa waiver travelers can board airplanes to the United States.
A task force in the House of Representatives would meet on Tuesday to discuss the program and wants to craft legislation to pass “by the end of the year,” Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Leader, said on Monday.
McCarthy told reporters that lawmakers were interested in requiring all countries in the waiver program to issue “e-passports” with chips and biometrics, and making sure they are submitting any information on lost and stolen passports to Interpol.
After the Paris attacks, the House passed a bill that would bar refugees from Syria and Iraq from entering the United States until security officials certify that they are not threats. The bill crippled President Barack Obama’s plan to accept 10,000 refugees in the next year and he has vowed to veto it.
U.S. officials have quietly acknowledged that they are far more worried about the possibility that would-be attackers from the Islamic State or other militant groups could enter the United States as travelers from visa waiver countries rather than as Syrian refugees.
The U.S. government routinely takes 18 to 24 months to screen would-be Syrian refugees before they are allowed to board flights to the United States.
In contrast, an estimated 20 million people fly to the United States each year from visa waiver countries such as France and Britain.
Officials have acknowledged that a European traveling to Syria to train with a group like Islamic State might be able to later enter the United States without significant scrutiny, if they are not already known to U.S. intelligence or partners such as Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5 or France’s DGSI.