The visa waiver program explained

Katie Couric
·Global Anchor

By Kaye Foley

Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, there’s been a greater focus on how people enter the United States.

On December 6, in a primetime address, President Obama called out a program that has been facing scrutiny — the visa waiver program. He said he “ordered the Departments of State and Homeland Security to review the visa waiver program under which the female terrorist in San Bernardino originally came to this country.”

However, the president misspoke — Tashfeen Malik actually came to the U.S. with a K1 visa, or the fiancée visa. The White House clarified, saying both the visa waiver program and the K1 visa process will be reviewed. While the administration is looking into background checks, a debate has begun over whether or not immigration officials should consider an applicant’s posts on social media accounts after Malik was cleared to enter the U.S. even though she shared messages supporting terror groups.

But concern over the VWP has been growing for some time. It’s a program that allows citizens from 38 partner countries —30 of which are European — to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism for up to 90 days without a visa. In return, U.S. citizens can visit those partner countries in a similar manner.

As of right now, VWP travelers need to have the correct passport and approval by the Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA, which checks the records of travelers.

But security efforts have been increased recently. On November 30, the White House announced enhancements to the program, including improved information sharing with partner countries and checking whether travelers have gone to a place “constituting a terrorist safe haven.”

With the help of Congress, the White House is also seeking to implement higher penalties for countries and airlines that aren’t keeping up security standards, using e-passports — passports with embedded security chips — or employing biometrics in the screening process.

So when it comes to the visa waiver program, at least after watching this video, you can say, “Now I get it.”