Visa Waiver Program - an unguarded door

by Fred Elbel

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows visitors from 38 countries with low rates of visa refusals to be admitted to the United States without applying for a U.S. visa. The program was adopted as a pilot project at the bidding of the tourist industry in 1986. It became operational in 1988. The program was extended and then made permanent in 2000, even though security concerns were expressed by FBI Director Louis Freeh, Justice Department's Inspector General, and other experts.

There are approximately 20 million admissions to the U.S. by travelers without visas. Visa Waiver Program travelers may enter the U.S. if they:

  • Present a digitized passport issued from a VWP country at the U.S. port of entry.
  • Claim to be visiting for 90 days or less.
  • Obtain an authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) - an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

It should be noted that ESTA authorization is not required for VWP passport holders who enter by land; it is is only required for visitors arriving in the United States by air or by sea.

According to DHS, 99 percent of all ESTA applications are approved within five seconds. Many travelers avoid Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) officials by using Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks that are available at 37 airports, including the Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Since the VWP traveler bypasses normal human-based consular screening, the program therefore does not effectively screen travelers as to whether they are a threat for security, terrorist, criminal, or health reasons. It also does not effectively screen travelers who have no intention of returning to their country. Thus, the burden of screening is essentially transferred to airlines and immigration inspectors who are able to conduct only the most cursory examinations.

Visa Waiver Program denies effective security screening

In the article Crime and Immigration, Michael W. Cutler, Senior Special Agent, INS (ret.), points out six benefits that the visa requirement provides to national security but which the Visa Waiver Program denies our nation:

1. By requiring visas of aliens who seek to enter the United States, this process helps to screen potential passengers on airliners that are destined for the United States. Richard Reid, the so-called "Shoe Bomber," was able to board an airliner to come to the United States although he had no intentions of entering the United States: his apparent goal was to blow up the airliner and its many passengers somewhere over the depths of the Atlantic Ocean by detonating explosives he had concealed in his shoes. Because he is a subject of Great Britain, a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program, Reid did not obtain a visa before he boarded that airliner. In a manner of speaking, the visa requirement pushes our the borders of the United States to every U.S. Embassy and Consulate where visas are issued.

2. The CBP inspectors are supposed to make a decision in one minute or less as to the admissibility of an alien seeking to enter the United States. The visa requirement helps them to do a more effective job. Their's is a tough job I can certainly relate to, having begun my career at the former INS as an immigration inspector.

3. The application for a nonimmigrant visa contains roughly 40 questions that could provide invaluable information to law enforcement officials should that alien become the target of a criminal or terrorist investigation. The information could provide intelligence as well as investigative leads. You can check out the application for a nonimmigrant (tourist) visa at this website: application for a nonimmigrant (tourist) visa.

4. If an alien applicant lies on the application for a visa, that lie is called "visa fraud." The maximum penalty for visa fraud starts out at 10 years in jail for those who commit this crime simply in order to come to the United States, ostensibly to seek unlawful employment or other such purpose. The penalty increases to 15 years in jail for those aliens who obtain a visa to commit a felony. For aliens who engage in visa fraud to traffic in narcotics or commit another narcotics-related crime, the maximum jail sentence that can be imposed rises to 20 years. Finally, when an alien can be proven to have engaged in visa fraud in furtherance of terrorism, the maximum penalty climbs to 25 years in prison. It is important to note that while it may be difficult to prove that an individual is a terrorist, it is usually relatively simple to prove that the alien has committed visa fraud when there is fraud involved in the visa application. Indeed, terror suspects are often charged with visa fraud.

5. The charge of visa fraud can also be extremely helpful to law enforcement authorities who want to take a bad guy off the street without tipping their hand to the other members of a criminal conspiracy or terrorism conspiracy that the individual arrested was being arrested for his involvement in terrorism or a criminal organization. You can arrest the alien who commits visa fraud for that violation of law and not for other charges that might make it clear that the investigation under way is targeting a criminal or terrorist organization.

6. Even when an alien applies for a visa and his application is denied, the application he filed remains available for law enforcement and intelligence personnel to review to seek to glean intelligence from that application.

When an alien is admitted into the United States under the auspices of the Visa Waiver Program, because the alien did not apply for a visa, none of the benefits to national security or law enforcement I described above apply.

Cutler states in the article The 9/11 Commission Report and Immigration: An Assessment, Fourteen Years after the Attacks:

Even after the 9/11 Commission identified the visa process as being too lax, rather than ending the wrong-headed Visa Waiver Program...

If you wonder why in the world the dangerous Visa Waiver Program was expanded and not terminated after the terror attacks of 9/11 and the findings and recommendations of the 9/11 Commission were made public, identifying immigration failures as directly contributing to the ability of terrorists to enter the U.S. and embed themselves in the U.S., the answer can be found in a three word program, the Discover America Partnership. The organization that is leading the charge to push this lunacy is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has partnered with executives of the hotel, hospitality, and travel industries, along with some manufacturing industries, to dictate national security policies.

Terrorist threat

The 1986 IRCA amnesty demonstrated that many aliens had entered under the Visa Waiver Program and did not return home, therefore becoming illegal aliens residing in America. 2002 immigration data revealed that over 70 percent of the newly admitted visitors from VWP countries were already residing in the United States. Counterfeiting of visa waiver passports has flourished in frequency and sophistication.

The Center for Immigration Studies noted in 2011 that there exists rudimentary exit recording, but there still is no reliable visa overstay reporting.

FAIR has pointed out that in late 2015, an estimated 3,000 European passport holders were known to be in Syria fighting for ISIS and other jihadist organizations. In addition, there are untold numbers of so-called "homegrown" jihadists who are citizens, by birth or by naturalization, of any of the 38 VWP nations. While some are on terrorist watch lists, many are not and can easily enter the U.S. under the VWP.


Visa Waiver Program, FAIR, 2015.

Identifying, Screening, and Tracking Aliens, David Simcox, The Social Contract, Fall 2001.

Crime and Immigration, by Michael W. Cutler, Senior Special Agent, INS (ret.), The Social Contract, Summer 2011.

Invasion America, by Michael W. Cutler, Senior Special Agent, INS (Ret.), The Social Contract, Fall 2014.

Placating Americans with Fake Immigration Law Enforcement, by Michael W. Cutler, Senior Special Agent, INS (Ret.), Front Page Magazine, December 4, 2015.

Visa Waiver Program, Some Known Unknowns, Coleen Rowley and Georgianne Nienaber, The Unz Review, December 1, 2015.

This long-standing, historically-proven dangerous, but little understood Department of Homeland Security (DHS)-administered program, allowed 21,231,396 foreign visitors from 38 countries to pass through U.S. ports of entry with minimal to no screening according to 2013 official records (the most recent data published)...

The VWP program allows 300 times more foreign visitors into the U.S. than refugees from all countries combined...

Historically, it must be noted that al Qaeda- aligned terrorists have already used the VWP to gain access to soft targets in the U.S.

Congressional Testimony on Visa Waiver Program, FAIR, June 21, 2004.

Congressional Testimony - Visa Waiver Program Oversight, Jessica Vaughan, Center for Immigration Studies, December 2011.

Congressional Testimony - The Visa Waiver Program and The Screening of Potential Terrorists, Mark Krikorian, Center for Immigration Studies, June 2004.

Visa Overstays Are Today's Immigration Crisis, Mark Krikorian, National Review Online, October 1, 2015.

USCIS Union Chief Warns of ISIS Threat to U.S., NumbersUSA, October 3, 2014.

Visa Overstays - CAIRCO research, 2015.

Visa Diversity Lottery - CAIRCO research, 2015.

Visa alphabet soup - an unmanageable mix - CAIRCO research.