Driven by the Paris terror attacks, the House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to tighten controls on travel to the US and require visas for anyone who's been in Iraq or Syria in the previous five years. The legislation takes aim at the "visa waiver" program that allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the US for stays of 90 days and less without first obtaining a visa from an embassy or consulate. Belgium and France, home to most of the perpetrators of last month's Paris attacks, are among the participating countries. The bill, which passed 407-19, would institute a series of changes, including the new visa requirement for citizens of Iraq, Syria, and any other country deemed a terrorist hotspot, along with anyone who's traveled to those countries in the previous five years.
Countries in the visa waiver program would also be required to share counterterror information with the US or face expulsion from the program. All travelers would be checked against Interpol databases, and visa waiver countries would be required to issue "e-passports" with biometric information. "You have more than 5,000 individuals that have Western passports in this program that have gone to Iraq or Syria in the last five years," says Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. "Those are gaps that we need to fix." Some 20 million visitors come to the U.S. annually under the visa waiver program. They already are screened through an online system maintained by the Department of Homeland Security. Lawmakers of both parties spoke in favor of the legislation, which is also backed by the White House.