Lawmakers in the United States have expressed increasing concern about how visa waiver programs can be used by terrorists to enter the country and avoid detection in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris last month. The US visa waiver program was approved by Congress nearly 30 years ago, back in 1986, and brings around 20 million people each year to the United States.
The idea behind the program is to enable those from friendly countries to come to the United States for short visits with no red tape and minimal screening. This is in contrast to the standard US visa system, helping with cultural exchanges, boosting business connections and stimulating tourism. The program covers as many as 38 countries, including some of the US’ strongest allies such as the United Kingdom, Germany and France. Other countries on the list include Andorra, Austria, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Malta and Sweden.
Travelers need to have valid passports and register electronically prior to travel to make use of the US visa waiver program and will be allowed to remain in the United States for a maximum of 90 days.
Security analysts are worried, however, that up to 5,000 foreign fighters who have gone to Iraq or Syria are now residing in visa waiver countries and may use this as a way to get into the United States without being detected. A number of lawmakers, including the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Senator Richard Burr, believe that the program may be more dangerous than bringing in Syrian or other Middle Eastern refugees.