Travel group chides Obama for visa waiver mistake

Travel group chides Obama for visa waiver mistake
© Getty Images

The U.S. Travel Association chided President Obama for saying  San Bernandino, Calif., shooter Tashfeen Malik entered the U.S. on a visa waiver, as lawmakers debate making changes to the program that is popular with tourism groups. 

Obama said during his address to the nation on terrorism on Sunday that he has ordered a review of "the visa waiver program under which the female terrorist in San Bernardino originally came to this country." 

The White House later issued a correction of the remark in a transcript of Obama's speech, striking the word waiver from his statement.  


Travel groups noted Monday that Malik entered the U.S. on a more obscure fiancé visa rather than the Department of State's general Visa Waiver Program, which allows tourists from 38 pre-approved countries to visit the U.S. without obtaining a visa. 

"We're grateful to the White House for quickly correcting the president's erroneous statement that one of the perpetrators of the tragedy in San Bernardino entered the U.S. via the Visa Waiver Program," U.S. Travel Association President Roger Dow said in a statement after the White House issued the correction. 

Dow said the Visa Waiver Program "is properly being looked at for enhancement — an effort that the American travel community strongly supports." 

But he added quickly "that discussion should keep sight of the fact that the program has played a key role in the U.S. security framework, and should not be unduly undermined."

Lawmakers have questioned the Visa Waiver Program often in recent years, citing terrorism fears that were attributed to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

The White House said after the recent terror attacks in Paris that the U.S. is “aggressively strengthening” the State Department's Visa Waiver Program and “bolstering our relationships” with the 38 countries whose tourists are currently allowed to visit the U.S. without obtaining a visa. 

Travel groups have resisted proposals to restrict access to the U.S., and they have pushed in recent years to expand the Visa Waiver Program despite fears about potential terrorist attacks that were raised even before the events in Paris. 

Obama took a starkly different tack from the tourism industry in his address Sunday night, saying, "We should put in place stronger screening for those who come to America without a visa so that we can take a hard look at whether they’ve traveled to warzones."