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Obama tightens visa waiver program after Paris attacks

The White House on Monday announced changes to a program that allows visa-free travel to the U.S. from partner countries in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

About 20 million people are permitted to travel to the U.S. each year under the program, which partners with 38 countries including Belgium, France and the United Kingdom.

In order to qualify, the U.S. institutes a comprehensive screening process to prevent and detect terrorists, criminals and other dangerous people from entering the country.

Among the new enhancements, the administration says the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will immediately take steps to figure out whether potential travelers under the program disclose whether they've had any prior travel to countries deemed terrorist safe havens.

In addition, the FBI director is also being assigned to evaluate terrorism information sharing between the U.S. and other countries.

The FBI, DHS, the State Department and other intelligence agencies will also deploy "Foreign Fighter Surge Teams" to work with countries to prevent terrorists from traveling.

DHS and other agencies will be required to prepare a report to give to President Obama within 60 days reviewing various weak spots in the program.

The administration says it has already taken steps over the last year to enhance the visa waiver program such as the introduction in August of new traveler screening and information sharing requirements for partner countries.

Officials are working closely with Congress, the White House said, to give the administration statutory authority to implement even further requirements, including increasing fines from $5,000 to $50,000 for air carriers that fail to verify a traveler's passport information.

The changes come about two weeks after the Paris terror attacks that left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded.

After the attacks, lawmakers in Congress expressed concern that the visa waiver program wasn't tough enough after authorities found some of the terrorists involved in the attack were French or Belgian citizens.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, have already unveiled legislation that would block anyone who has traveled to Iraq or Syria in the last five years to travel to the U.S. under the program.

The enhancements also come about a week after Mr. Obama promised during a joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande to ramp up information sharing with other countries.

Mr. Obama is currently in Paris for a global climate conference.