When drafts of the President’s Executive Order that became the travel ban were initially being leaked, there was reporting that suggested it would would suspend the Visa Waiver Program.
The Visa Waiver Program:
- Citizens of 38 countries apply online for entry to the US for up to 90 days
- The ESTA (electronic travel authority) is in lieu of a formal visa, which requires an interview
- Suspending this program would require visitors to the US to obtain the formal visa instead, scheduling US embassy interviews
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Ultimately that’s not what was in the Executive Order, there was a misunderstanding and references to the Visa Waiver Interview Program (visa renewals) were reported as being for the wrong program with a similar name.
Indeed since then the US has express strong confidence in security in Europe despite attacks at the Paris and Brussels airports. Strong European security is the excuse for targeting even the most secure Mideast airports with an electronics ban (while not targeting Lagos, Nigeria where Delta flies and Boko Haram operates, or Baku, Azerbaijan or airports in China).
Now Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says the Visa Waiver Program needs to be revisited after all, and precisely because he sees a threat coming from Europe as ISIS suffers defeats in the Mideast and some members of the group spread out to the West — but they really want to come to the U.S.
While foreign fighters with Islamic State may initially return to their home countries, Kelly said their “real intent” is to travel to the U.S., which is “the Super Bowl in terms of terrorists.”
“They want to get here, they want to do us harm,” he said. “That’s my concern now that we’re winning in Iraq and soon to win in Syria, that those fighters go back to their homes in Europe and then very possibly make the trip to the United States.”
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Fundamentally terrorism is actually pretty hard. And the number of people who want to die for their cause is small. Occasionally small groups pull of plots but they’re fewer and farther between than we suspect. And we’ve altered our entire framework for living and travel in response and that’s lamentable.
Meanwhile limitations on the Visa Waiver Program that don’t allow all EU member states to have access have already led the European Parliament to push for Americans to have to get a visa to go to Europe. Most international travel rules are based on reciprocity, so crackdowns in the U.S. may have some repercussions for travel abroad by Americans as well.