According to AFP: The United States could replace the ESTA

Here is an article published recently by the AFP, which announces possible evolutions of the ESTA Visa USA
program.

This is the full article:


A European jihadist who enters as a tourist in the United States and commits an attack: it is the obsession of some elected American, who want to reform the visa exemption granted to more than thirty countries, including France.

The possibility of allowing citizens of 38 countries to enter without visas in the United States is the “Achilles heel of America”, said the influential Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, a few days after the attack against Charlie Hebdo . The former president of the Senate Intelligence Commission is preparing a bill to strengthen the security measures related to visa exemptions, which she hopes to present soon, according to her entourage.

Other parliamentarians have the visa exemption in the sights, such as the Republican representative Candice Miller, which proposes in particular to authorize the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to suspend if necessary the visa entries for a given country. Statistics on Western Jihadists? 3,000 to 5,000 Europeans are believed to have fought in Iraq or Syria, as the profile of Charlie Hebdo’s assailants (extremists of French nationality) awaken memories glaring for the Americans.

That of Zacharias Moussaoui, nicknamed sometimes the 20th pirate of the 11th of September: a Frenchman entered the United States in 2001 on simple presentation of his passport. Or Richard Reid, the Briton who in December 2001 had attempted to blow up a plane to the United States with shoes trapped.

Yet the United States has completely reformed its visa-free entry procedures since that time, notably introducing in 2008 the Esta, electronic travel authorization that every candidate wishing to travel to the United States must complete online before his departure. A considerable improvement, which gives US security services the opportunity to see in advance who wants to enter the territory, “rather than two hours before,” said Christian Beckner, specialist in internal security issues at George Washington University .

Agreements not implemented

On Thursday, the Minister of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, stressed that it would be “a mistake” to question the visa waiver. But he conceded that there were “ways to improve the security of the program.” “We urge our allies in Europe and elsewhere to maintain and share travel information about individuals” suspects, added the minister.

Some US officials are not satisfied with the operation of intelligence-sharing agreements and suspicious information, which are in principle signed with each country benefiting from the visa exemption. The United States “is not getting the fluid information they need,” said Candice Miller in January. “The full implementation of intelligence sharing agreements” and “extending the scope of these agreements,” argues Nathan A. Sales, a professor of law at Syracuse University.

According to an official report by GAO (US equivalent of the Court of Auditors), in 2012, only half of countries receiving visa waivers “fully respected” intelligence sharing agreements. And “many of the signed agreements were not put in place” in reality, the report added. In an effort to strengthen its filtering capabilities, the DHS has extended the list of questions posed by Esta. Since November, the form requests, for example, the name of the applicant’s father and mother, possible pseudonyms and contacts in the United States.

Many experts believe that the visa exemption is in any case necessary from the financial point of view, due to the number of visitors concerned, and the economic weight of the partner countries. In 2012, 19.1 million people entered the United States on a visa-free basis, accounting for about 40% of total temporary entry.

The 38 countries concerned are most of the European countries including France, and major allies of the United States such as Japan, South Korea, Australia or Chile. According to US Customs, 4,300 Esta travel permits have been denied since 2008 because the candidate was on a blacklist of suspicious persons. Over the same period, 22,500 authorizations were denied because the candidate used a passport declared to be stolen.