What's the purpose of the US visa waiver program ban related to certain countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Sudan)?

Is it about preventing people who are likely to commit terrorism from entering? Citizens of Iran and Iraq are not especially likely to engage in terrorist attacks against the US. Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which are vaguely allied with the US, were two countries that had a high proportion of 9/11 terrorists.

Is it about punishing governments which are sponsoring terrorism against the US? The official government of Iraq (as opposed to Islamic State) is not, as far as I'm aware, dangerously hostile to the US and wanting to act as home ground for terrorists attacking the US.

Is it about deterring individuals from interacting with these countries? I can see the legislation making life difficult for people visiting Iran, in order to deter business and tourism, as a possibility. I sometimes see tourism news media talk about Iran with a certain modicum of fascination, kind of like North Korea. But by contrast, Iraq, Syria and Sudan aren't exactly topping any tourism hit lists.

I wouldn't be surprised if domestic politics, terrorist attacks within the US, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the Iran nuclear deal play a contributory role in the decision to create the ban, but even so, I would expect some sort of logic, good or bad, as to which countries are targeted.

  • 4
    Logic is not much favored in politics; anytime you try to write a rule "we will punish with Y any country that does X", you find that it is wiser to include exceptions for allies (actual or for convenience) or for those nations that can hurt you back, until the "rule" becomes applied in a "case per case" base.
    – SJuan76
    Jan 22, 2016 at 15:04
  • 4
    I'm voting to reopen this question because it has nothing to do with Trump's executive orders. Look! This question was asked 364 days before Trump took office! This question concerns changes to the visa waiver program.
    – phoog
    May 26, 2017 at 6:00

2 Answers 2


Short answer: It is because U.S. officials must know sufficient details about the traveler, and certain countries fail to provide with such information about the traveler.

Think logically.

For me as a traveler, VWP is ability to simply appear on the Immigration desk in an international airport and be (almost) certain that I will be allowed into the country.

But this only looks that easy.

For the Immigration officer, the task is much, much more complicated. They need to know enough information about me in order to make a decision about whether or not to let me in. In other words, straight at the moment I passed my passport to an officer, they instantly need an access to my prior criminal records, paying capacity (unsolved debts, bankruptcy, etc), and even medical record (like vaccination).

Note that an officer only has maybe one minute because 25 more people are waiting behind me in the line.

In fact, when you normally apply for visa, the Consulate does the same thing — but they have dramatically more time to submit all requests, get results, and make a proper decision.

Now, think what happens if I recently traveled to a country (like Iraq) which is (semi-)openly hostile to the country I'm traveling now (U.S.). Obviously, Iraq did not disclose electronic information about my visit. It is well reasonable for the U.S. Immigration officer to require more information what did I do and what activity I'm involved in.

We are all people, and we may think that such approach is unfair, but truth is, every country has right to make a decision about whether to let me in. And it's their right to ask for further information at any moment, without even explaining why.

So, VWP ban can be simply considered a deliberate request for further information, giving the U.S. Consulate more time to check that I'm a Good Samaritan.

  • 6
    This explanation is quite obviously BS. There are probably more than a hundred countries that can't be relied on to provide reliable information (out of a mix or incompetence, corruption or mild hostility to the US), the list here is much more restrictive. Immigration officer certainly do not have instant access to credit, medical or criminal records for all VWP travellers in the first place.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 22, 2016 at 20:16
  • 1
    I like this answer, it gives the White Houses reason which is the official reason though can be scrutinized. Also I believe we also are taking active military action in those areas, cept in Iran. We must also consider that this was a campaign promise which though we can speculate is the prevailing reason it is not the official reason given.
    – SCFi
    May 25, 2017 at 11:18

First of all you have to realize that the law is impossible to enforce in practice. It would therefore only affect law abiding citizens and people whom the US already suspects of visiting the singled out countries, possibly for nefarious purposes. So the answer to why the ban was implemented is two-fold:

  1. Law-abiding citizens would avoid traveling to the affected countries, which effectively imposes economic sanctions on said countries. Iran recently became visa-free for all VWP countries so I'm sure they're very much affected.

  2. The US gets a convenient excuse for denying entry to people they suspect of terrorism, but couldn't possibly convict in a court of law.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .