The U.S Visa Waiver Programme (“VWP”) has been designed to allow nationals of 38 participating countries, including the UK, Japan, Germany and other European states, to travel to the U.S without a visa, if they are visiting for 90 days or less for business or tourism purposes. In return, the participating countries are required to reciprocate, affording U.S nationals the ability of travelling visa-free to many countries in Europe and Asia.
On 18 December 2015 the U.S Congress voted to impose restrictions on visa-free travel to the U.S for certain nationals ordinarily exempt under the VWP.
The restrictions to the VMP, which are to be implemented in 2016, will require nationals of the VWP participating countries, who wish to enter the U.S for 90 days or less, whether for business or tourism, to apply for visas if they are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria or if they have visited these countries at any time since 2011.
The new legislation signed into law by the U.S president, is as a consequence of concerns over possible threats to U.S security, particularly after the Paris attacks in November and the shootings that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California on 2 December 2015.
The new restrictions imposed have been widely criticised as discriminatory against people holding dual-nationalities. Particularly in the case of Iran or Syria, who deem people nationals regardless of whether they were born there or have ever lived there, with the only qualifying criteria being if their fathers are citizens.
The changes are also set to hinder business activity, acting as a deterrent for nationals of participating countries wanting to conduct business in Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, as they would thereafter find themselves denied visa-free entry to the U.S.
Citizens of the 38 participating countries, ordinarily exempt from applying for visas to the U.S under the VWP, are now urged to take note of the new legislation and check whether restrictions apply before travelling to the U.S. It remains unclear at this time whether the EU will revoke reciprocity for American dual-nationals hoping to travel abroad.