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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - December 10, 2015

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*- House easily passes visa waiver reform bill -*

WASHINGTON - The House of Representatives easily passed a reform bill Tuesday aimed at making it more difficult for people coming from certain countries to use the visa waiver program that allows about 20 million people into the United States each year.

The House approved the bill in an overwhelming 407-19 vote, with strong support from both parties. Meanwhile the Senate introduced a similar measure which hasn't been scheduled for a vote. Some civil libertarians and European officials raised concerns about the bill, especially one day after GOP front runner Donald Trump's call for a ban on all Muslims entering the country.

There are 38 countries whose passport holders are allowed to visit the U.S. without having a visa. The House bill, if passed, would bring greater scrutiny to individuals deemed at-risk for potential terrorist activity while also increase information sharing between the U.S. and those 38 countries to limit access for some who have dual citizenship in, or have visited countries where they might have become radicalized.

If a person was considered at risk, they would have to be interviewed at a overseas consulate first, like those traveling from countries outside the visa-waiver program.

The bill also would require other countries to use passports with electronic chips that confirm a person's identity and require countries report lost or stolen passports to Interpol within 24 hours or risk being suspended from the visa-waiver program.

Because of the bipartisan support in the House, chances are greater it could be included in the omnibus spending package lawmakers are working to complete before a possible government shutdown on Friday. But the Senate bill is different and could keep it from getting done in time.

Begun in the 1980s, the visa-waiver program has been a highly successful way of boosting business travel and tourism.

Until Tuesday's strong bipartisan vote, the two parties have struggled to come together on any measures to improve security after the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. Democrats were unable to get support for keeping persons on terror no-fly lists from legally buying guns or explosives. Republicans have been criticized for trying to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the country until improved background checks are put in place.


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