On February 18, 2016, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced further steps in the implementation of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015. The DHS has decided to designate Libya, Somalia, and Yemen as three countries of concern and thus limit travel to the US on the VWP for a certain class of individuals who have traveled to those countries.
Under the Act, travelers who are nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Libya, Somalia, and Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 are are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the US under the Visa Waiver Program. There are limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country, as well as for travel as a journalist for reporting purposes.
At this time, the restriction on VWP travel will not apply to nationals of VWP countries who are also dual nationals of Libya, Somalia, or Yemen. In other words, in order for the restrictions to apply, an individual must have traveled to one or more of these three countries. The restriction is not triggered merely by virtue of holding a dual nationality.
Last month, the US began implementing the first set of changes under the new VWP legislation. At that time, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria were designated as countries subject to restrictions for VWP travel for certain individuals. However, the restrictions related to those countries are more stringent compared to those that are in place for the newly added Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. Notably, nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria are automatically disqualified from travel under the VWP, even if they have not traveled to those countries after March 1, 2011.
Individuals affected by the new rules will still be able to apply for a visa using the regular visa process at US embassies or consulates abroad. Any travelers who are not eligible to travel under the VWP are still eligible to travel to the US with a valid non-immigrant visa. Such travelers will be required to appear for an interview at a US embassy or consulate and obtain a visa in their passports before traveling to the United States.
DHS continues to consult with the Department of State to develop further criteria to determine whether other countries should be added to this list. In the meantime, DHS encourages current ESTA travel authorization holders to check their ESTA status prior to travel to the US.