Sad news for the Australians who have recently visited some Middle Eastern countries! The United States cuts the benefit of the visa waiver program for them, under changes to take effect immediately.
The US has brought sudden changes to the program that will now not be granted to those who travelled Sudan, Iraq, Syria, or Iran on or after March 1, 2011. The nationals of these countries will also be treated with the same rule.
These changes are the result of a bill passed by the US Congress last month following the rise of the Islamic State and growing concerns over terrorism.
According to the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act 2015, limited exceptions will be applicable to those who travelled those countries for diplomatic or military purposes. The US Department of Homeland Security said that aid workers, journalists, and people travelling to those countries for business purposes might also be eligible for the waiver program under the new rules.
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The act demands people having a passport of these four countries or travelled any of them within that designated period to apply for a visa through the regular process at a consulate or embassy if they want to travel America. The act does not spare those who already have valid Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTA).
Total 38 countries, mostly in Europe, were eligible for this visa waiver program. The US Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that they would release a new, detailed ESTA questionnaire in February 2016.
A spokesman for the department said that people willing to travel US should visit the Smartraveller website as it has all the details and updates about the new rule. The site will be gradually updated if the US government provides any update or advice regarding this act.
Image Courtesy: Mashable
These new conditions will not affect the Australians who have visited those four countries before 2011. However, others are not banned from visiting the US. They just need to apply for the visa like residents of non-visa waiver countries.
Belinda Ward, the managing director of G Adventures, said that the sudden changes could disrupt the travel schedules of many Australians. On the other hand, Flight Centre Travel Group, an Australia-based international travel company, thought that the changes would not affect majority of the Australian travellers.