US tightens visa rules

WASHINGTON. — The United States on Thursday began implementing restrictions to its Visa Waiver Programme under a law passed after last year’s attacks in Paris, making it harder for citizens of European Union countries to visit in some cases.

Several of the terrorists who killed 130 people in the French capital held European passports that would have allowed them to easily enter the US under the former system.

The series of attacks in and near Paris on November 13, 2015 were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

The new travel rules are designed to keep Europeans who have fought for the IS group (sometimes referred to as ISIS or Daesh) from entering the US, by putting stricter limits on who can travel to the US without a visa.

Citizens of the 38 countries in the US Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) were previously able to travel to the US for up to 90 days without a visa but must now obtain one if they have visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria since March 1, 2011.

They must also obtain a visa if they are dual Iranian, Iraqi, Sudanese or Syrian nationals, the US State Department said.

Citizens from the 38 waiver programme nations, most of which are in Europe, are currently required to submit biographical information to obtain a travel authorisation through the so-called Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) before coming to the US.

The State Department nevertheless noted that under the new law the US secretary of homeland security has the authority to issue waivers to the restrictions on law enforcement or national security grounds.

People who could be eligible for a waiver include those who visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of international organisations or humanitarian groups, or journalists who carried out reporting in the four countries.

They may also include people who travelled for legitimate business reasons to Iraq or to Iran following the July 14, 2015 nuclear agreement.

Last week BBC journalist Rana Rahimpour was stopped from boarding a US-bound plane in London’s Heathrow airport because of her dual British-Iranian nationality. Rahimpour, a presenter for the BBC’s London-based Persian service, was told by US authorities she could no longer fly to the US under the Visa Waiver Programme because of her Iranian citizenship. — France24/AP/Reuters.

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