Australian visitor visas to the US could be about to get a whole lot more complicated

Customs Hall at Sydney Airport. Photo: Sydney Airport media.

Travelling to the US could soon be a lot more complicated for Australians, after the US passed a bill to limit the ease of obtaining a visa in response to growing terrorist threats to the nation.

A bipartisan majority in the US House of Representatives on Tuesday saw overwhelming support for increased restrictions to foreign travelers, with lawmakers voting 407 to 19 in favour of changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

Australia is currently one of the 38 countries under the VWP, along with the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Japan, whose citizens are eligible to travel to the US without a visa for holidays or business stays of 90 days or less.

The White House announced its support of the bill following the coordinated terror attacks which took place in various locations across Paris on November 13, after it was found that attackers had been radicalised whilst in Syria.

If the legislation is passed, “it would require chip-enhanced electronic passports that contain biometric data for all visa-free travelers arriving in the United States to be in use by next April by all countries participating in the program,” according to reports by AFP.

In addition, the changes would also require travelers who had visited Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan in the last five years to obtain a visa.

“This legislation will help close gaping security gaps and improve our ability to stop dangerous individuals before they reach our shores,” said Republican Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Under the current scheme, Australians only need to obtain an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before travelling to the US.

Approximately 20 million visitors take advantage of the VWP each year, which was originally introduced in 1986 as a security partnership to boost US relations with its allies and drive tourism.

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