House, not Senate, last hurdle in visa waiver expansion
By Brian Beary in Washington | Wednesday 20 June 2012
The main obstacle to passing a bill that makes it easier to add Poland and eventually other EU countries to the US Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) is resistance in the US House of Representatives. Texas Congressman Lamar Smith (Republican), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which has the lead on the dossier, remains “very opposed” to VWP expansion, noted a Senate staffer at a conference at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, on 19 June. According to Scott Payne, legislative assistant to Senator Barbara Mikulski (Democrat, Maryland), a lead sponsor of the bill, “we have a pretty good shot” of the Senate passing it “soon” but what will happen in the House “is still cloudy”. President Barack Obama has indicated that he will sign the bill if Congress passes it.
The bill, the JOLT Act, introduces a maximum 3% visa
overstayrule for inclusion on VWP, which should help countries to be added as until now they are judged solely on visa
refusalrates, which remain stubbornly above the maximum 3% for VWP hopefuls Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. The bill raises the refusal rate maximum to 10% if countries have an overstay rate below 3%. According to Marc Frey, who used to manage the VWP at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), opposition to VWP expansion in recent years has been underpinned by false myths that the programme is a security loophole and that it is a source of overstays. Mark Koumans, the DHS official currently responsible for the VWP, admitted that his department’s push to get more accurate data on overstays remained “a work in progress” because US airports were not configured to systematically record the departure of all VWP visitors.