The United States on Thursday began implementing changes under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, according to a statement of the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
It is reminded that the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of , mainly European, countries* to travel to the U.S. without a visa for stays of 90 days or less. Greece is among the 38 countries/participants to the VWP.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) welcomes more than a million passengers arriving to the United States every day and is committed to facilitating legitimate travel while maintaining the highest standards of security and border protection”, the announcement said.
Under the Act, travelers that are citizens of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011, are no longer eligible to visit the U.S. under that program. However, limited exceptions apply for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country.
The announcement also said that citizens of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria, are also now required to obtain visas before visiting the U.S..
These individuals will still be able to apply for a visa using the regular immigration process at U.S. embassies or consulates.
Beginning January 21, 2016, travelers who currently have valid Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTAs) and who have previously indicated holding dual nationality with one of the four countries listed above on their ESTA applications will have their current ESTAs revoked.
“The new law does not ban travel to the United States, or admission into the United States, and the great majority of VWP travelers will not be affected by the legislation” the announcement said.
It is noted that under the new law, the Secretary of Homeland Security may waive the restrictions if it is determined that is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the U.S.. In addition, categories of travelers who may be eligible for a waiver include individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of a humanitarian NGO on official duty, or journalists who were in the four countries for reporting purposes.
Also eligible for a waiver may be people who traveled for legitimate business reasons to Iraq or to Iran following the July 14, 2015 nuclear agreement.
* The Visa Waiver Program countries are Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and United Kingdom.
Information on visa applications can be found at travel.state.gov.
Current ESTA holders are encouraged to check their ESTA status prior to travel on CBP’s website at esta.cbp.dhs.gov.