DHS adds new travel limits out of terror fears

DHS adds new travel limits out of terror fears
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The Obama administration is expanding restrictions for foreigners able to travel to the U.S. without a visa, due to increased concerns about terrorism.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Thursday said that people who have recently traveled to Libya, Somalia and Yemen will not be eligible for a tourist program allowing them to come to the U.S. without first obtaining a visa.


The extra precaution “is indicative of the department’s continued focus on the threat of foreign fighters,” the department said in a statement announcing the new restrictions.

Under an existing visa waiver program, citizens of 38 countries including Australia and the United Kingdom can travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without first obtaining a visa. In response to growing fears about foreign extremists, Congress enacted new limits on that program late last year, closing off the option for visa-free travel for people with ties to countries deemed hotbeds of terror.

Last month, the DHS unveiled restrictions on people who had recently traveled to or were dual citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Sudan. The new limits imposed on Thursday only apply to people who have traveled to Libya, Somalia or Yemen since March of 2011 — not dual nationals.

The limits do not prevent people from traveling to the U.S., but instead require them to undergo the more arduous process of first obtaining a visa.

Thursday’s new precautions follow a letter from House Republicans earlier this month, asking for the administration to enact new limits on people who had recently traveled to Libya. Chaos in Libya following its 2011 revolution has allowed for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to flourish there. 

“ISIL is exploiting the collapse of central authority and the proliferation of militias to create a safe haven in the energy-rich country,” four top House Republicans said in their Feb. 12 letter, using an alternate acronym for ISIS. “These brutal terrorists now control hundreds of miles of Libyan coastline in and around the seaport city of Sirte — just 300 miles from Europe.”

Somalia and Yemen are also consumed by chaos, and serve as bases for affiliates of al Qaeda. 

On Thursday, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) called the administration’s changes “vitally important.”

Republicans erupted in anger at the Obama administration last month, after it included a number of carve-outs to the new restrictions that GOP lawmakers said they had expressly opposed. 

Among other measures, the DHS said that journalists, aide workers and business people traveling to Iraq or Iran might qualify for visa-free travel, even if the new limits would have otherwise barred that option. To Republicans, the changes appeared to be a direct concession after Iran expressed concern about the new limits. 

Despite the new changes, McCaul on Thursday noted that he still has “grave concerns” about the administration’s implementation of the law and its “plans to waive important security screening requirements to appease countries like Iran.”

Those exemptions will be applied on case-by-case basis, the administration has claimed.

—This report was updated at 12:01 p.m.