WASHINGTON - Concerned about foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq, Washington imposed tighter security screening on Monday for travelers from countries, mostly in Europe and Asia, whose citizens do not need a visa to get into the United States.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said people from countries in the US Visa Waiver Program will have to provide additional information on an electronic application they need to file to be eligible to enter.
"We are taking this step to enhance the security of the Visa Waiver Program, to learn more about travelers from countries from whom we do not require a visa," Johnson said in a statement.
The move was in response to the security threat posed by the possible radicalization of foreign fighters in Syria who hold Western passports and thus would not arouse suspicion at airports or other entry points.
Thirty-eight countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, or VWP, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany and other European countries as well as Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, according to the State Department.
"DHS is concerned about the risks posed by the situation in Syria and Iraq, where increasing instability has attracted thousands of foreign fighters, including many from VWP countries," the DHS official said on condition of anonymity.
The official cited cases in which people traveled from Syria to Europe and carried out attacks, including a museum shooting in Belgium in May, as well as public threats against the United States in response to its involvement in Iraq.
Islamic State militants have released videos of the beheading of American civilians that blamed US air strikes for their actions.
In order to travel without a visa from these countries, visitors must get approved through an online system called Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA, and pay a fee.
Under the rules that took effect Monday, people from those countries will have to provide additional information - passport data, contact details and other names used - in their travel application submitted through ESTA, Johnson said.
The DHS official said the additional data will help security officials identify threats to the United States and prevent suspected terrorists from getting in.
"We are also confident these changes will not hinder lawful trade and travel between our nation and our trusted foreign allies in the Visa Waiver Program," Johnson said.