Yesterday’s House Homeland Security Committee hearing on visa security focused on issues important to the travel industry, including the implementation of reforms to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), and its role in preventing bad actors from entering the U.S., as well as the need for additional Customs and Border Protection staff officers. During the proceedings, several lawmakers, State Department, and Department of Homeland Security officials made important comments about the value of the VWP, as well as the importance of having robust CBP staffing at ports of entry.
In light of a GAO report last year that found one third of VWP partner countries were not complying with VWP rules, the committee asked DHS leadership whether all countries were now in compliance. Acting Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Border, Immigration, and Trade Policy Michael Dougherty responded, “Our point at this point in time is that the countries in the VWP are in compliance. There are many ways that DHS can engage those program countries to get them in further compliance…That is our position right now, that the countries in the Visa Waiver Program are compliant.”
When questioned about the VWP review process, Dougherty noted the “significant number of security features that are involved in those assessments,” which are “very, very detailed.”
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services Edward Ramotowski further highlighted the security benefits of the VWP. Without the VWP, Ramotowski stated, the “Information sharing that is so important to populating our watch list about threats from these countries might be endangered”
Ensuring proper resources for national security efforts was top of mind for members of Congress as well. Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) noted that, according to March staffing numbers, CBP is almost 1,400 officers short of its staffing target. She made sure to mention that, while CBP is “doing their best…at some point security and facilitation suffers.”
Said U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President for Public Affairs Jonathan Grella: “We’ve now heard it straight from the source: the Visa Waiver Program is essential to both securing and facilitating international travel to the United States. We thank Assistant Secretary Dougherty and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ramotowski for their truthful, balanced remarks.
“In addition, we agree with Rep. Barragán that we must have adequate CBP staff at our ports of entry to support this dual aim of security and facilitation.”
The U.S. Travel Association is the national, non-profit organization representing all components of the travel industry that generates $2.4 trillion in economic output and supports 15.6 million jobs. U.S. Travel's mission is to increase travel to and within the United States. Visit www.ustravel.org.