Feds promise visa waiver changes 'very soon'

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The State Department is promising to make changes to a program allowing some travelers to enter the U.S. without a visa "very soon."

The changes to the program waiving visas for people from 38 countries will be “phased” in, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Wednesday, weeks after Congress approved the fix to prevent domestic terrorism.

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“These changes haven't been implemented yet,” he added. “But the U.S. government has not yet begun denying any of these applications. So, we'll have more to say on the implementation of the new visa waiver program changes soon.”

The visa waiver program allows people from dozens of countries, including the United Kingdom, France and Japan, to easily enter the U.S. for up to 90 days. The program is used by roughly 20 million tourists each year

In December, on the heels of the deadly terror attack in Paris, Congress passed legislation to waive that special program for people who have recently visited or are dual citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria and other countries deemed hot spots of terrorism. The attackers in Paris were all European nationals, meaning that they likely could have easily used the visa waiver program to travel to the U.S. with relatively few hurdles.

The measure attracted some criticism from Iran, which warned it would lead to unfair restrictions on Europeans doing business with the country after the landmark lifting of sanctions this weekend.

On Tuesday, a British journalist said she was turned away from her flight to visit New Jersey because she is also a dual citizen of Iran.

Rana Rahimpour is a journalist with BBC’s Persian language service, and said that the visa problem prevented her young daughter from attending an American relative’s birthday.

Toner insisted on Wednesday that the denial could not be due to the change in law.

“None of the new provisions to the visa waiver program have been enacted yet,” he said.

Yet Rahimpour maintained that she was told her request had been denied because of “new legislation.”