House Passes Bill To Tighten U.S. Visa Waiver Program, Strengthen National Security


The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation designed to strengthen U.S. border security against radicalized foreigners on Dec. 8. The bill will tighten the U.S. visa waiver program.

Following the Nov. 13 Paris attack by members of ISIS, Congress has been working on legislation to make it more difficult for members of the terrorist organization to infiltrate the U.S. The Dec. 2 San Bernardino, California, mass shooting committed by a radicalized Muslim couple only added fuel to the fire.

Proposed by House Republicans, the new bill will place restrictions on the U.S. visa waiver program, barring citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan from entering the U.S. without undergoing the routine approval process. The ban will also apply to those who have traveled to any of those four countries within the last five years.

In addition, the legislation will require the 38 countries that participate in the waiver program to share more visa data with the U.S.

The waiver program was started in 1986 to allow tourists to visit the country for up to 90 days without having to apply for a visa. The program was designed to strengthen tourism, resulting in 20 million tourists a year entering the U.S. without going through a formal process, NBC reports.

The bill came to a vote on the same day that House Democrats protested the rejection of their gun control proposal, The Washington Post reports. Their proposal aimed to ban individuals on the U.S. no-fly list from obtaining a firearm.

Despite the protest, the visa waiver legislation was eventually passed with bipartisan support, with a tally of 407 to 19 approving.

“This will help neutralize the threat from foreign terrorists entering our country,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said, according to CNN.

Ryan also dismissed the House Democrats’ call to ban the sale of guns to those flagged as national security threats, calling it a “distraction.”

“The important issue here is no one is excluded by this bill,” Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland said. “There are however additional requirements designed to ensure that those who come into this country are in fact not a risk to this country.”

Some lawmakers remain unconvinced that this new legislation will solve the problem of terrorists trying to infiltrate the U.S.

“This bill will do some good, but it’s mostly evadable,” Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman of California said, according to The Washington Post.

The House also passed a bill designed to make it harder for refugees from Iraq and Syria to enter the U.S.

President Barack Obama has promised to veto that legislation, but the White House has given its support to tightening the visa waiver program.

A date has not been set for the Senate to vote on either of the two new bills.

Sources: CNN, NBC, The Washington Post / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr, Tony Alter/Flickr

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