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Homeland Security

US House Votes to Tighten Controls on Visa-Free Travel

by VOA News December 08, 2015

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to bar people who have visited Iraq and Syria in the past five years from a program that allows visa-free entry to the U.S.

The legislation takes aim at the visa waiver program that allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa from an embassy or consulate.

The bill, which passed 407-19, would institute a series of changes, including the new visa requirement for citizens of Iraq, Syria and any other country deemed a terrorist hot spot, along with anyone who's traveled to those countries in the previous five years.

The measure also would require countries participating in the visa waiver program to check travelers against Interpol databases to determine whether they are wanted by law enforcement agencies based on ties to terrorism or criminal activity.

To prevent falsification of passports, the measure would require all 38 countries to issue what it calls "e-passports" containing biometric information. The bill would require countries to be able to confirm that such documents are legitimate when they are scanned.

The Senate has not scheduled a vote on the measure. The White House has indicated support for tightening the waiver program.

Some 20 million visitors come to the U.S. annually under the visa waiver program. They already are screened through an online system maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.

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