Travellers from visa-waiver nations will be fingerprinted under US Senate Bill

An officer checking a passenger's travel documents at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC on Nov 25.
An officer checking a passenger's travel documents at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC on Nov 25. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Travellers to the United States from "visa-waiver" nations would have to provide fingerprints and photographs under a US Senate Bill to intensify scrutiny of foreigners, one of several border-tightening measures introduced since the Paris attacks.

The measure is the latest proposed to tighten US border controls since the Nov 13 shootings and bombings in France by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that left 130 people dead, triggering a wave of fear across the US.

The Bill was introduced on Tuesday (Dec 1) by a bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Jeff Flake.

It would also require individuals who have visited Syria or Iraq in the last five years to get a traditional US tourist visa before heading for the US, rather than taking advantage of the "visa waiver" programme.

Under that programme, travellers from 38 countries, including much of Western Europe, can embark for the US without first getting a visa from a US consulate or embassy in their home country. About 20 million visitors a year enter the US under the programme, which allows them to stay 90 days.

US officials privately admit that they are more worried about possible ISIS or other Europe-based militants using the visa-waiver programme to enter the US than they are by the possibility that would-be attackers might hide among droves of US-bound refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq.

The Bill would also increase the fee charged by the US to visa-waiver travellers, now US$14 (S$20). Travellers who get visas from US embassies or consulates now must pay a fee of US$160. The two Democrats did not say how high they wanted to raise the fee for visa-waiver travellers.

The Bill was greeted with scepticism by a travel industry representative. Mr Jonathan Grella, executive vice-president of the US Travel Association, said a pre-travel fingerprinting requirement could deter travellers.

"The US travel community strongly supports sensible security enhancements to the visa-waiver programme. What we cannot support are steps that ultimately dismantle the programme and set back America's economy and our efforts to protect the homeland," the trade organisation said in a statement.

Obama administration officials said they have already taken steps to tighten scrutiny of visa-waiver travellers.

In August, the administration said it would require the use of an Interpol database containing reports of lost and stolen passports to screen passengers, and the reporting of suspected "foreign fighters" to international security agencies such as Interpol, a US official said.

However, the administration has not proposed either requiring visa-waiver passengers to submit fingerprints in advance of travel or increasing fees.

A congressional official said the fingerprinting requirement in the Bill would most directly affect first-time travellers to the United States.