US to step up screening of European and other visitors who don’t need visas
WASHINGTON — The United States plans to tighten screening measures on travelers from European countries and other allied nations amid growing concern over the rising number of Islamist militants who have fought in Syria and hold Western passports, U.S. officials said.
The heightened security steps, introduced Monday by the Department of Homeland Security, are aimed at dozens of countries whose citizens are exempted from requirements that they obtain visas before entering the United States.
The rules will require millions of travelers from Europe, Australia and elsewhere to provide more detailed information to U.S. authorities before they can board a flight to the United States.
For the first time, U.S. officials said, such travelers will be required to disclose whether they hold passports from multiple countries, or have used alternate names or aliases — data that can enable more accurate screening against U.S. terrorism watch lists.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement that the changes are needed “to learn more about travelers from countries from whom we do not require a visa.” He said the requirements “will not hinder lawful trade and travel.”
U.S. officials said the changes are driven by concern over how many citizens from “visa-waiver” countries have fought in Syria and, because of their citizenship, hold passports that enable them to travel relatively freely across Europe and potentially to the United States. Many have joined an affiliate of al-Qaida or a rival group, the Islamic State, that has seized territory and executed American and British hostages as well as hundreds in Syria and Iraq.
U.S. officials have said that more than 15,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria. The vast majority are from countries in the Middle East or North Africa whose citizens would need a visa to enter the United States. But more than 2,000 have come from Australia and countries in Europe.
The system is aimed at travelers who would ordinarily undergo only light scrutiny before coming to the United States.