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Although it is probably already well known to everyone, the U.S. government has revised the visa waiver program with changes effective on January 26, 2016.  These revision and enforcement of the changes to the Visa Waiver Program were made to under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015. In the future, individuals who meet the following criteria will no longer be eligible to enter to the U.S. using the Visa Waiver Program, and will need either a B-1 visa or a different applicable visa stamp to enter the U.S. (provided Japan remains a participating country in the visa waiver program):

  • If you have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria after March 1, 2011with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a visa waiver program country
  • If you have dual citizenship with citizenship in a visa waiver program participating country such as Japan and citizenship in Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria.

If you meet any of the above criteria, please prepare to apply for visa applications prior to entering the U.S. at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  In addition, if you visit the U.S. embassy or consulate for an emergency including business, medical care or humanitarian reasons, you can expect your application to be expedited. 

Additionally, if you have entered Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria for the emergency reasons listed above, and the Department of Homeland Security judges that it will benefit national security, they may exempt you from the criteria listed below. 

  • Travelling on behalf of government affairs such as international organizations, local organizations or as a representative of the government.
  • Travelling on behalf of a NGO performing humanitarian support
  • Travelling as a journalist to obtain news
  • Travelling to Iran for legal commercial purposes after the July 14, 2015 agreement, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
  • Travelling to Iraq for legal commercial purposes

Currently, it is still unclear if these exemptions will be received and assessed individually.

Furthermore, on February 18, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security Announced that the three countries: Libiya, Somalia, and Yemen will be added to the list of “high risk” countries along with Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria.