During Tuesday’s House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hearing, experts agreed that the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is beneficial both for the economy and national security.
Due to continued concern over the threat of foreign fighters returning home to stage attacks on the U.S. and allied countries’ homeland, the effectiveness of the Visa Waiver Program has come under scrutiny. VWP allows residents of member countries streamlined access to visit other VWP countries after establishing a minimum standard of information sharing between member countries. The streamlining of traveler, terrorist, threat, passport, and flight information as well as domestic and international security database information has increased across VWP countries, allowing for greater security. This has reduced foreign consulates’ need to staff for in-person interviews of travelers seeking visas and has allowed VWP members to increase travel. The program has increased commerce and trade and improved diplomatic relations among the 38 member countries.
Tuesday’s witness panel included travel experts Dr. Marc Frey, Senior Director from Steptoe and Johnson, LLP, and Roger Dow, President and CEO of U.S. Travel Association. It also included security experts Brian Jenkins, Senior Advisor to the RAND President, and Dr. Steven Bucci, Director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy at The Heritage Foundation.
Dr. Frey began by noting that the Visa Waiver Program “unequivocally” keeps the U.S. safe. Roger Dow’s testimony echoed this sentiment: “Without security there is no travel. If travelers don’t feel safe, they stay home.” Dow added that the VWP ensures a strong and secure nation. Brian Jenkins noted that intercepting foreign fighters is a main concern now and ending the program would overstretch consular offices’ resources. Dr. Bucci addressed fears that the VWP visa process was somehow less secure than the pre-VWP system, which required an in-person interview, by showing that those who travel as part of the VWP go through a robust process of security checks before, during, and even after travelling to another VWP country.
Expanding the VWP program was also a focus of the hearing. Dow mentioned nine countries that might be candidates for the VWP. Dr. Bucci noted that treaty allies would be ideal candidates for VWP expansion, particularly U.S. ally Poland. Subcommittee Chairwoman Candice Miller agreed that Poland should be included in the VWP in the wake of current Russian expansion in Ukraine.
Ultimately, the security of the U.S. has been increased by the Visa Waiver Program. While the threat of ISIS persists, the information shared and gathered through the VWP and its programs has in fact helped the U.S. and other VWP members. In addition, all VWP member countries have benefited economically and diplomatically from the increased travel enabled by the program. The VWP should be expanded.