Calls to tighten tourist entry to the United States in the wake of terrorist outrages took force last night, with the US House of Representatives voting overwhelmingly to tighten restrictions on travel to the US by citizens of the 38 nations – including Australia – who are allowed to enter the country under America’s Visa Waiver program.
The measure will not affect most Australians. It will require visitors from the Visa Waiver countries, which include Australia and much of Western Europe, to obtain a visa to travel to the US if they have been to Syria, Iraq, Iran or Sudan during the past five years.
Moves to tighten entry to the USA heightened sharply after the attacks in Paris by Islamist fanatics on 13 November 2015 and increased further after the homicidal attack in San Bernadino, California, last week by a jihadist husband-and-wife suicide team.
Not surprisingly, the vote in the US House of Representatives was supported overwhelmingly. It passed by 407 to 19.
When the law is passed, it will require countries participating in the Visa Waiver program to share information with US authorities about suspected terrorists or risk being suspended from the scheme.
Problems have grown over the years with the realisation that some residents and citizens of countries in Europe (and some citizens of Australia, for that matter) are loyal to jihadist groups. Some have been radicalised after visiting Syria.
US President Barack Obama called on Congress, in a national security speech to the US, to tighten the Visa Waiver program.
Attitudes to the program are hardening and the concern is not new. For some time, the US has been worried that those who wish harm to the US could take advantage of the Visa Waiver program to slip into America posing as tourists.
The alarm was raised earlier this year by one of the fastest-rising stars on the US political scene, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.
Gabbard, a former US Army major who has served two tours of duty in Iraq and who is being increasingly tipped as a potential future US president, called earlier this year on the US Administration to suspend the Visa Waiver program for Britain, France and Germany because of the large numbers of Islamic extremists living there.
The 38 countries in the Visa Waiver Program, many of them in Europe, include Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, Italy and Greece.
Participating countries outside Europe include Australia and New Zealand. Australia has some of its citizens fighting in the ranks of ISIS.
In January this year, Gabbard said: “I urge the Administration to immediately suspend the Visa Waiver program for countries such as Great Britain, Germany, and France, which have thousands of citizens fighting alongside Islamic extremist groups like ISIL, in the Middle East or around the world.”
Her words seem pretty prophetic in the light of recent events.
Written by Peter Needham