With the atrocious attacks in France, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) has once again come under critique by U.S. politicians. Over the weekend, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D–CA) called the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) the “Achilles heel of America,” while Representative Michael McCaul (R–TX) has voiced his concern over the vulnerability of the program.
The VWP, a program which allows citizens of member states the ability to travel for 90 days without a visa between member states, has not only increased security between nations and boosted diplomatic relations, but also increased economic growth through tourism.
Critics of the program are arguing that stolen passports can be used by foreign fighters to leapfrog between VWP member states, assuming that the traditional face-to-face visa application process alone would stop foreign fighters from entering the U.S. Critics of the program would prefer the visa application process for our friends and ally nations be the same as it is for higher risk countries that may be less strategically, politically, or economically aligned.
Since the introduction of the VWP, the sharing of threat information between member states has actually increased. The U.S. now has more information about potential threats along existing security measures for stopping terrorist travel such as the information databases within Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (for passports) and the U.S.’s Terrorist Screening Database. The VWP’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization has also streamlined the traditional paper process of applying for a visa. The State Department is now able to direct its limited resources to countries that pose greater risks. Just recently the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) added additional screening measures for VWP members over foreign fighter concerns.
Senator Feinstein’s own state of California is one of the top destinations in the U.S., accounting for one in five of all tourists to the U.S.—and millions in revenue for California. But the tourism gains are only an incentive for countries to join the VWP, with increasing security being paramount. Total security is never certain, but despite the Senator’s worries about “ferreting out” suspects from the troves of data collected, more members of the VWP means more threat information being shared. That is why Poland, a country that has shown interest in joining the VWP with presidential support, should be accepted in the VWP.
The VWP is not a threat to national security any more than the traditional visa process is. Cancelling or hobbling the program, however, will harm security by decreasing the information the U.S. receives on potential threats. DHS and Congress should instead seek to improve and judiciously expand the program to make the U.S. more secure.