By Nikki Ekstein
December 02, 2015
US visa
Credit: © Collectiva / Alamy Stock Photo

Following the recent attacks in Paris, travelers and government officials alike have been wondering: What exactly would have stopped a Belgian- or French-based terrorist from stirring up serious trouble on American shores? The answer as it stands is unsettling. Currently, passport holders from 38 countries are able to enter the U.S. via the Visa Waiver Program, a relatively lax standard meant to facilitate travel between politically stable countries. But lawmakers are waking up to a new reality, and putting forth a new series of regulations that will tighten security for visitors to the U.S.

Among the changes hitting effect immediately: the process used to verify travelers’ identities will now include a thorough screen of countries they’ve visited previously. This second layer of screening will help the U.S. track down individuals who have been to “terrorist safe havens” and prevent them from entering the country. The U.S. will also begin a more robust information sharing relationship with partner countries in an effort to identify terrorist safe havens and individual threats on a global level.

Further regulations will require the green light from Congress, but would go the extra mile in thwarting terrorists who may be traveling with stolen or lost passports. The one that should have the greatest impact? Requiring biometric information on passports from Visa Waiver-approved countries. This would help customs agents identify travelers not just by photo or name but also by fingerprints or facial recognition. Also on lawmakers’ priority lists: increasing fines from $5,000 to $50,000 if airlines fail to verify passenger passport information.

For U.S.-based travelers, the impact is minimal, but the government is making a bigger push than ever before to get passport holders enrolled in Trusted Traveler programs such as Global Entry, which meet the most exacting biometric requirements and safety standards. If you’re not yet enrolled (and really—what have you been waiting for?), now might just be the time to do so.