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Senators Move To Tighten Visa Waiver Program; Concede Issues Exist

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We heard yesterday on this program of a plan to make it harder for some people to enter the United States without a visa. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson talked about it. President Obama's administration wants to change the Visa Waiver Program and so do many in Congress as NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Citizens from visa waiver countries need only to fill out a form online and a passport to board a jet and come to the U.S. Monday, the Obama administration announced it was tightening the program but acknowledged that it could only do so much without action by Congress. Now a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill. Among other things, it requires individuals who've traveled to Syria or Iraq in the past five years to apply for a traditional tourist visa and be interviewed by a U.S. official. The idea is to prevent Europeans who have gone to Syria or Iraq to fight or train with ISIS from coming to the U.S. But what about foreign fighters who sneak into Syria over the porous border with Turkey? Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, one of the Senate bill sponsors, concedes there are problems.

JEFF FLAKE: There are problems with that. I mean, you - only those who get their passport stamps, and there is a good case to be made that, you know, those are the ones you don't worry about as much as the others. You do the best you can, and that's why you need intelligence sharing and gathering as part of it.

NAYLOR: Some 20 million people from visa waiver countries come to the U.S. each year. And the travel industry, while supporting some changes to the program, is urging caution. Patricia Rojas-Ungar is vice president of the U.S. Travel Association.

PATRICIA ROJAS-UNGAR: There are sensible approaches, but what we don't want is this overreaction that makes people feel more secure but doesn't actually improve safety.

NAYLOR: It's unclear when the Senate bill might come to the floor. The House is expected to consider its own measure to tighten the Visa Waiver Program as early as next week. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.