The Visa Waiver Program enables citizens of 27 countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. In fiscal year 2004, more than 15 million people entered the country under the program. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the risks that aliens would exploit the program to enter the United States became more of a concern.
The Visa Waiver Program has many benefits as well as some inherent risks. It facilitates travel for millions of people and eases consular workload, but poses challenges to border inspectors and patrol agents, who, when screening visa waiver travelers, may face language barriers or lack time to conduct in-depth interviews.
Also, stolen passports from visa waiver countries are prized travel documents among terrorists, criminals, and immigration law violators, creating an additional risk.
While the Department of Homeland Security has intercepted many fraudulent documents at U.S. ports of entry, DHS officials acknowledged that an undetermined number of inadmissible aliens may have entered the United States using a stolen or lost passport from a visa waiver country. The U.S. government's process for assessing the risks of the Visa Waiver Program has weaknesses.
In 2002, Congress mandated that, every 2 years, DHS review the effect that each country's continued participation in the program has on U.S. law enforcement and security interests, but did not set a reporting deadline. In 2004, DHS established a unit to oversee the program and conduct these reviews. We identified several problems with the 2004 review process, as key stakeholders were not consulted during portions of the process, preparation for the in-country site visits was not consistent, and the final reports were untimely.
In addition, DHS cannot effectively achieve its mission to monitor and report on ongoing law enforcement and security concerns in visa waiver countries due to insufficient resources. DHS has taken some actions to mitigate the program's risks; however, the U.S. government has faced difficulties in further mitigating these risks.
In particular, the department has not established time frames and operating procedures regarding timely stolen passport reporting--a program requirement since 2002.
DHS has sought to require the reporting of lost and stolen passport data to the United States and the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), but it has not issued clear reporting guidelines to participating countries. While most visa waiver countries participate with Interpol's database, four do not. DHS is not using Interpol's data to its full potential as a border screening tool because DHS does not automatically access the data at primary inspection stations.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.