- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2014

Homeland Security officials said Monday that they will immediately begin demanding more information from visitors from countries with visa-free entry, bowing to growing fears that jihadists from Iraq or Syria could use a loophole to bring their battle to the U.S. mainland.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson did not suspend the Visa Waiver Program despite pressure from some key lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but he said the government will order travelers from visa-waiver countries to report more information such as parents’ names, city of birth and aliases.

But visitors holding passports from visa-free countries still can skip the in-person interview and don’t have to submit the biometric information that others must.

“We are taking this step to enhance the security of the Visa Waiver Program, to learn more about travelers from countries from whom we do not require a visa,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement announcing the change.

The waiver program covers 38 countries that have met certain benchmarks to be able to exchange travel information with the U.S. and have low rates of visa fraud. The countries are chiefly European and Asian allies.

Citizens of many of those European countries, however, have joined the bloody jihad in Syria and Iraq, sparking fears that they may return to their home countries to carry out terrorist attacks or even use their passports to gain entry to the United States.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, said the rules changes show that the administration “has begun to acknowledge concerns” about the dangers of the Visa Waiver Program.

“While this is a small step toward a more secure program, much more needs to be done,” Mr. Goodlatte said.

The administration resisted any changes for months and repeatedly rejected calls to suspend the Visa Waiver Program for countries with citizens who reportedly have joined terrorists.

Lawmakers have announced multiple bills designed to force Mr. Obama’s hand, but none has received a vote in either chamber of Congress. The House and Senate have been out of session since the beginning of August, with the exception of a short return in mid-September.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that screens passengers upon arrival, said the danger from foreign fighters is chiefly a European problem, but all countries under the Visa Waiver Program will face the stricter reporting requirements to maintain uniform standards.

The agency said those who already have received electronic approval don’t need to submit new data until their waivers expire, and officials don’t expect the new checks to cause delays in approving travel requests.

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