Due to concerns over terrorism and rogue terrorist cells possibly operating in the USA, the US House of Representatives and US Government is attempting to add new restrictions to the US visit visa waiver program. It may no longer be possible in future for certain groups of people from around the World to come under the visa waiver program. The Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015's purpose is to make certain categories of people no longer eligible to apply under the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) system for the visa waiver scheme in place since 2008. ESTA is an online application process used by travellers who are permitted visa-free travel to the USA under the Visa Waiver Program for B-1/B-2 visitors as tourists or for business.
Changes to US Visitor Visa waiver program
In the wake of incidents such as the 2015 Paris attack and the murders committed by what some news outlets are speculating was a sleeper cell in San Bernardino, California, US lawmakers have decided to take action on countries that they believe sponsor terrorism. Countries such as Iraq and Syria have been included because the US feels that they sponsor terrorism, but also included in that list are Iran and Sudan. Iranians around the World have strongly objected to the proposed new visa law. This can be seen as a huge setback in American-Iranian relations that had been defrosting slightly since former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stepped down from power.
In a nutshell, if someone of any nationality decides to visit one of these Countries, including Iran, before making a visit to the USA, then they will need to apply for a B-1/B-2 visit visa, regardless of whether they would otherwise be eligible to come under the visa waiver scheme for visitors or not. This means expenditure in both time and cost as visitors to Iran and the other Countries, Iranians and nationals of other Countries on the list will have to make applications through their nearest US embassy or Consulate.
Iranians with Dual Citizenship also affected
Even if an Iranian national also holds a passport from one of the 38 countries currently participating in the Visa Waiver Programme (such as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand etc) they would still need to apply for a visa to enter the USA. Naturally, there are many Iranians protesting against this bill in regions such as the EU, who can currently travel to the US for business or pleasure with the minimum of fuss.
Increased difficulties in applying for other US Visas
While more restrictive legislation on the visa waiver scheme will not directly affect applications for other types of US visa certain nationalities and groups of people are likely to find it more time consuming applying for other visas as well. There may be more stringent security checks in place for various popular work related visa categories including the L-1 visa, H-1B visa and the E-1 and E-2 visa.
How likely that the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act will be passed
The Act has just passed through the House of Congress; however, it still has to pass through the Senate and be signed by the President before it becomes law. According to GovTrack the bill has a prognosis of just 17 percent chance of being enacted. This may be misleading as the bill was passed by the House of Representatives with overwhelming support.