The Trump administration will begin requiring countries with high rates of citizens overstaying select visas in the U.S. to launch campaigns educating people against breaking U.S. immigration laws, senior administration officials announced Friday.
The Department of Homeland Security introduced three new requirements relevant to the 38 countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program, an immigration and national security partnership among America's closest allies that allows recipients to visit the U.S. without a visa for up to 90 days.
"These were part of a series of enhancements that we had looked at and considered, and we considered appropriate at this time, but there wasn't a specific threat ... that prompted this," a senior administration official told reporters Friday morning.
One consequence that the administration wants foreigners to understand is that they will not be permitted to re-enter the U.S. "visa-free" following an overstay.
Four countries — Portugal, Greece, Hungary, and San Marino — which had overstay rates on business or tourism nonimmigrant visas of greater than 2 percent last year will be required to form public information campaigns that educate their citizens on the conditions for admission to the U.S.
The overstay rate among VWP recipients is actually lower than non-VWP visas, 0.68 percent versus 2.17 percent, respectively.
In fiscal 2016, 147,282 VWP recipients overstayed in the country compared to the 21.6 million who left before the deadline.
The change to this specific program was made in order to ensure the VWP has the appropriate security requirements in place to make sure terrorists and criminals cannot exploit the program.
"The United States faces an adaptive and agile enemy, as terrorists continue to explore ways to reach our country and to direct, enable, and inspire attacks against us," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement Friday. "It’s critically important we stay ahead of these threats by improving our security posture. These enhancements will strengthen the program, and they are part of our continued efforts to raise the baseline for homeland security across the board."
The U.S. will not tell these four countries how to carry out their educational campaign.
"We think that it's best to really — to work with the countries because they understand their people. They understand how to communicate with their people ... how to craft a message and use the right channels to have the greatest impact," another official said.
In addition to the public relations campaign mandate, VWP countries will be required to fully carry out existing information-sharing agreements, which require the screening of travelers from those countries with U.S. counterterrorism information.
DHS and the Transportation Security Administration will also analyze these nations on the "effectiveness of safeguard against insider threats in the aviation security environment."
The Department of Homeland Security also asked Congress to codify existing VWP requirements, including reporting foreign terrorist information to organizations, collecting and analyzing passenger travel data, and ending arrangements that have allowed "U.S. Federal Air Marshals to operate onboard U.S. air carriers for last point of departure flights to the United States."