The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) strengthens U.S. security by allowing only pre-screened, pre-approved travelers from participating allied countries to travel to the United States visa-free for stays of up to 90 days for business or leisure. Each individual is vetted for security against multiple law enforcement and security databases and must obtain preauthorization from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in order to travel to the United States.
To be part of the VWP, countries must agree to, and uphold, rigorous security measures including:
- Share information about known or suspected terrorists and criminals with U.S. authorities, as well as maintain high standards for transportation security, border security and document integrity.
- Allow U.S. inspections of their security standards, protocols and apparatus to ensure compliance with the highest security practices.
- Promptly enter data on all lost and stolen passports into INTERPOL’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database. No such requirements exist for countries that do not participate in the VWP.
- Issue, at a minimum, machine-readable passports that conform to stringent international aviation security standards. The use of e-passports, which are particularly difficult to forge, is mandatory for all VWP travelers from countries admitted to the program since 2007.
- Comply with information-sharing agreements with the United States on travelers who may pose a terrorist or criminal threat and on lost and stolen passport reporting.
- Through programs like the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), before boarding a flight to the United States, travelers from VWP countries must be individually screened against multiple law enforcement and terrorism databases, and security is greatly enhanced when those databases include information from foreign governments.
The United States conducts comprehensive reviews of all VWP countries, at least every other year, to ensure ongoing compliance. Such reviews can result (and have resulted) in membership revocation or other conditions placed on a country’s membership in the program.
Recent data released by DHS found that less than one percent (0.65%) of travelers from VWP countries overstay their expected departure, lower than the overstay rate of visitors from non-VWP countries (1.6%).
An overwhelming majority of national security experts believe that the VWP is a pivotal contributor to protecting the American homeland and public, ensuring a strong and secure nation. It is also plays an important role in U.S. foreign relations and in bolstering the American economy.
The VWP is instrumental to facilitating international travel to the U.S., which is America’s number one services export. Overseas visitors (international visitors other than those from our next-door neighbors Canada and Mexico) spend billions of dollars that support local communities and generate tax revenues that support public schools and fire departments.
In 2015, 23 million visitors to the U.S.—60 percent of all overseas visitors—arrived through the VWP. While visiting the U.S., they generated $120 billion in total output for the U.S. economy, supporting nearly a million American jobs.
The U.S. travel community evaluates every travel-related policy through the lens of security first and foremost. After all, without security, there is no travel.