United States –Implementation of Statutory Changes to U.S. Visa Waiver Program

United States –Implementation of Statutory Changes to

This GMS Flash Alert reports on changes to the Visa Waiver Program which were included in an omnibus spending bill (H.R.2029) passed by the U.S. Congress on December 18, 2015.

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Significant changes to the Visa Waiver Program were included in an omnibus spending bill (H.R.2029)1 passed by the U.S. Congress on December 18, 2015.  These amendments entitled “Terrorist Travel Prevention and Visa Waiver Program Reform,” introduce new restrictions on travel into the United States. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the United States for business and tourism for up to 90 days without a visa.  


This law places new restrictions on the VWP.   As an example, in cases where an individual falls within one of the below-noted restrictions, while he/she would not be prohibited from coming to the United States, the individual would have to apply for a B1/B2 visitor’s visa, whereas under prior rules, applying for a B1/B2 visitor’s visa was not necessary.  

These and other constraints introduced by the amendments should be noted by global mobility professionals, immigration advisers, and those traveling to the United States under the VWP but now included in these restricted categories.  Should a traveler not be in compliance, he/she could be prevented from travelling and/or stopped at the port of entry.


The VWP permits individuals of certain pre-approved countries to enter the U.S. without first obtaining a visitor visa (B-1/B-2) while overseas.  Individuals seeking to benefit from the program must first apply for approval with U.S. Customs and Border Protection through the ESTA portal2

Changes under the Amendments

Under the Terrorist Travel Prevention and Visa Waiver Program Reform, travellers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the VWP: 

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have travelled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions-see below); 
  • Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.3 

These restrictions do not apply to VWP travellers whose presence in Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan was:

  • to perform military service in the armed forces of a program country; or
  • in order to carry out official duties as a full-time employee of the government of a program country.

The above exceptions do not apply to the dual national restriction.  (If you are a dual national, then the above two points do not apply and you and therefore are restricted from using the VWP.)   

In addition, the amendments include other changes to the VWP to promote enhanced information sharing of terrorism and criminal data, and the use of INTERPOL databases and notices for border screening purposes.  The amendments also require that all VWP travellers use an electronic passport for travel to the United States (Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)) by April 1, 2016.


1  See H.R. 2029, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, on the Library of Congress’ Thomas Web site.

2  See the official ESTA application site.

3  For additional information, see this Web page for the Visa Waiver Program.  


This article, is excerpted, with permission from “Terrorist Travel Prevention and Visa Waiver Program Reform – Implementation of Congressionally Mandated Changes to the Visa Waiver Program in Force,” in e-Alert (January 28, 2015), a publication of KPMG Law LLP in Canada, a KPMG International member firm. 


For assistance with immigration-related matters pertaining to Canada, please contact your local qualified immigration counsel*, or the following immigration professional with the KPMG International member firm in Canada:


Charlene Quincey, U.S. Immigration practice leader, KPMG Law, Canada

Tel.: +1-416-943-0288 x266 



*  KPMG LLP (U.S.) does not provide any immigration services.  Please note KPMG LLP Law in Canada can assist clients with U.S. immigration matters.  

The information contained in this newsletter was submitted by the KPMG International member firm in Canada.

© 2016 KPMG LLP, a Delaware limited liability partnership and the U.S. member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”), a Swiss entity. All rights reserved.

Flash Alert is an Global Mobility Services publication of KPMG LLPs Washington National Tax practice. The KPMG logo and name are trademarks of KPMG International. KPMG International is a Swiss cooperative that serves as a coordinating entity for a network of independent member firms. KPMG International provides no audit or other client services. Such services are provided solely by member firms in their respective geographic areas. KPMG International and its member firms are legally distinct and separate entities. They are not and nothing contained herein shall be construed to place these entities in the relationship of parents, subsidiaries, agents, partners, or joint venturers. No member firm has any authority (actual, apparent, implied or otherwise) to obligate or bind KPMG International or any member firm in any manner whatsoever. The information contained in herein is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.

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