WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Robert Hurt (R-Virginia) released the following statement after voting in favor of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act, which will make strides to ensure that individuals entering the United States through the Visa Waiver Program do not pose a threat to our national security:
"The Islamic State and its agents of evil will seek to exploit any avenue they can to come to the United States and inflict harm on our citizens. At present, the Visa Waiver Program clearly demonstrates vulnerabilities that the Islamic State seeks to exploit. The Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act will suspend a country's ability to participate in the Visa Waiver Program if it is not sufficiently meeting a number of new requirements, all of which are designed to keep those who seek to do us harm from coming to our shores. Failure to fix these weaknesses and close these gaping loopholes leaves our nation vulnerable and allows unacceptable levels of risk to persist. It is my hope the Senate will consider this commonsense legislation immediately and send it to the President's desk. This is one small, but vital, step to improve our national security, but we must do more to destroy the Islamic State and all agents of terror seeking to perpetuate evil in our country and across the globe."
· Presently, the Security of Homeland Security can only suspend participation in the Visa Waiver Program because of imminent security threats, but this legislation will allow the Secretary to suspend participation in the Program if countries do not continually share necessary information.
· This bill will require all participating countries to use INTERPOL's criminal and law enforcement databases and require the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend a country's participation in the Visa Waiver Program if they do not meet INTERPOL's requirements.
· The legislation will also require individuals in the Visa Waiver Program to use Electronic Passports by April 1, 2016, and it directs the Department of Homeland Security to report to Congress steps to strengthen the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
· Finally, this bill requires annual national security threat assessments for "high-risk" countries and allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend a country's participation in the Visa Waiver Program if it is deemed "high-risk."