WASHINGTON -- One of the travel industry's favorite government
policies, the visa waiver program, could make it easier for
terrorists to enter the U.S., a security expert has warned.
Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Immigration and
Claims, Yonah Alexander, director of the International Center for
Terrorism Studies, said the vulnerability of the program is that it
allows visitors from certain qualifying, low risk, countries to
visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa, and that means no
In exchange, those countries permit U.S. visitors to enter
without a visa.
While the program has been a boon to tourism, Alexander said
U.S. authorities have "failed to appreciate the magnitude of the
But, Peter Becraft, deputy commissioner for the Immigration
& Naturalization Service, noted that none of the individuals
involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had entered the U.S.
under the visa waiver program.
Most had legitimate, legal visas and passports, he said.
Becraft conceded there have been problems with the program,
largely due the inconsistent compliance by the participating
And while the U.S. has no viable system in place to determine
whether visitors actually leave after 90 days, Becraft said the
program is valuable because it allows immigration officials to
focus resources on high-risk individuals.
Despite some criticism of the program, no one suggested
canceling it, and the testimony from William Norman, president of
the Travel Industry Association of America, reiterated the travel
industry's long-standing support of the program.
He said, "The rationale that underlies its creation and
existence is as sound as ever."