Terrorism and the Visa Waiver Program

Hearing Date: December 10, 2015 10:00 am 2154 Rayburn House Office Building

1210_TerrorismandVisaProgram

PURPOSE:

• To address the vulnerabilities in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and assess what steps the U.S. government has taken to mitigate terrorists abusing the VWP and our immigration system.

BACKGROUND:

• Established in 1986, the VWP allows nationals of certain countries to enter the U.S. as temporary visitors (nonimmigrants) for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa or undergo an in-person interview at a U.S. consulate. Currently, nationals of 38 countries can enter the U.S. without first obtaining a visa under the VWP.
• Attention has been directed toward the VWP of late because of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. At least five of the attackers were French nationals and one was a Belgian national. Nationals of both France and Belgium are able to enter the U.S. under the VWP.
• Thousands of Westerners have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria or Iraq to fight with extremist groups. Individuals from VWP program countries who return could then enter the U.S. by taking advantage of the VWP.

KEY VIDEOS:

National Security Subcommittee Chairman Ron DeSantis (R-FL):

“[S]enior DHS officials told the Government Accountability Office in April 2013 that the Department had not reported overstay rates because it did not have sufficient confidence in the quality of the over-stay data, and so they said that they couldn’t reliably report overstay estimates … Why did DHS officials tell the GAO that it did not have confidence in the biographic system in 2013?”

Health Care, Benefits, and Administrative Rules Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH):

“Ms. Burriesci, I’ve asked you the number of Americans that have travelled to Syria — you don’t know; the number of Americans that may have travelled and returned — you don’t know; the number of Syrian refugees who have entered the country in the last year — you don’t know; the number of Visa Waiver Program overstays — you don’t know; the number of visa waiver overstays who may have been to Syria before they came here — you don’t know; and the number of American citizens on the no-fly list — and you don’t know.”

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC):

“At least some of the Paris bombers could’ve come into this country and we would’ve never known about it because of the Visa Waiver Program—that is a true statement?”

Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK):

“[W]e can’t even get good figures in an open hearing that would be round to the nearest hundred-thousandth.”

Witnesses and testimonies

Name Title Organization Panel Document
Kelli Ann Burriesci Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy Department of Homeland Security Document
Janice Kephart Director, Homeland Security Solutions MorphoTrak, LLC Document
Brian Michael Jenkins Senior Advisor and President RAND Corporation Document
Ken Gude Senior Fellow, National Security Team Center for American Progress Document

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