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VISA Program Security To Be Strengthened After San Bernardino Attacks

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The threat of terrorism may tighten up who gets into the US. The House of Representatives voted to make changes to a US VISA program and the Senate is headed that way.

Alex DeMetrick has details of the changes some visitors may experience.

Right now, visitors from dozens of countries can enter the US without a VISA. Congress is working to limit that.

Tuesday's vote was 407 for and 18 against. The House is voting to make changes to the VISA waiver program. Currently, visitors from 38 countries can enter the US without a VISA, if they stay 90 days or less. The change: if any of those visitors also traveled to Iraq or Syria in the last five years, they must first get a VISA.

"You have more than 5,000 individuals that have western passports in the program who have gone to Iraq or Syria in the last five years," said Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

"Getting a VISA will give the US intelligence about who these people are," said Dr. Michael Greenberger. "They won't be walking in blind."

Dr. Greenberger is with the University of Maryland's Center for Health & Homeland Security.

"This is not a silver bullet. It's not going to protect everything but I think it is a sound, prudent measure," Greenberger said.

Those needing VISAs to travel here are cleared in person by US Customs. It's American embassies in other counties that determine who qualifies for a VISA. The Iraq-Syria connection would likely effect only a fraction of the 20 million VISA waivers granted annually and would have limited impact at BWI Marshall, where the majority of the nearly 865,000 international travelers are American.

The House bill also requires the 38 countries in the VISA waiver program to share counter-terrorism information with the US or they'll be removed from the program.

The US Senate is working on similar legislation limiting the VISA waiver program. The President has signaled he will sign it into law.

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