Republicans raise concerns on visa waiver bill implementation

WASHINGTON Five U.S. Republican lawmakers raised concerns on Thursday with the Obama administration about implementation of a law meant to make it harder for people to enter the United States if they have visited certain countries, in a letter seen by Reuters.

Kevin McCarthy, top Republican in the House of Representatives, and four other House members said in the letter that the Department of Homeland Security is making overly broad exemptions to allow people to skirt the new requirements.

The bill was enacted into law in December following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris and the Dec. 2 shootings in San Bernardino, California.

The law was designed to keep people who have traveled to Syria, Iraq, Iran and Sudan from coming to the United States except through the normal visa process.

Under the existing U.S. Visa Waiver Program, citizens of 38 mainly European countries can travel for up to 90 days to the United States visa free. The new law required that travelers who have been to Syria, Iraq, Iran or Sudan since March 1, 2011, must get a visa to come to the United States.

Several of the Islamic State attackers who killed 130 people in France held European passports that would have allowed them to easily enter the United States under the waiver system.

According to the letter, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is making exceptions to the new law for people who visited the four specified countries to do humanitarian work, journalism or for “legitimate business-related purposes.”

“These exemptions from the travel restrictions were not provided for in the law, are contrary to congressional intent, and are in breach of the agreement we reached with members of your administration,” the letter said.

The lawmakers said the Department of Homeland Security must provide Congress with details of every visa waiver for those who have traveled to the listed countries on a monthly basis, including name and nationality of each traveler and the justification for granting the visa waiver.

The letter asked the administration to provide no later than Feb. 12 emails and other documents that led them to the decision on making exemptions. “Had your administration complied in good faith with the bipartisan agreement we reached, we would not be writing you today,” the letter said.

The letter was signed by Kevin McCarthy, Michael McCaul, Bob Goodlatte, Edward Royce and Candice Miller.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Meredith Mazzilli)

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