SEPTEMBER 16, 2008
The U.S. government wants to expand a program that allows foreigners to enter the country without visas even though the agency that operates it has not been able to mitigate security risks or account for those who don’t leave when they are supposed to.
Operated by the Department of Homeland Security, the controversial Visa Waver Program allows citizens of 27 countries to travel to the U.S. for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa from the U.S. embassy or consulate. The program creates huge security and illegal immigration risks for the U.S. because travelers aren’t screened for criminal records or prior immigration violations.
Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security cannot verify the departure of many of the foreign nationals who enter the country without proper visas. Several government audits have documented the serious lapses and now an investigative congressional report reveals alarming information that perhaps supports eliminating the program but certainly postponing its expansion.
Investigators found that the Visa Waiver office has not followed its own standard operating procedures that aspiring countries must meet before being admitted into the coveted program. It requires formal written submissions and a thorough Homeland Security investigation of the country’s impact on security, law enforcement and immigration.
In the meantime, almost 13 million foreigners from dozens of countries entered the U.S. last year thanks to the waiver, which was created in 1986 to stimulate the tourism industry by eliminating unnecessary barriers to international travel. After the 2001 terrorist attacks the troubled system was supposedly strengthened but numerous reports indicate otherwise.
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