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US Suspends Visa-Free Transit Programs - 2003-08-03


Because of security concerns, the U.S. government has suspended two international airline transit programs that allowed foreign passengers to stay in U.S. airports without visas while waiting for flights to other countries.

The step was taken after intelligence reports indicated terrorist networks planned to use the no-visa programs to infiltrate U.S. airports without being screened.

The two programs allowed flyers who would normally need a U.S. visa to skip the required paperwork while stopping at U.S. airports and changing planes for another foreign destination.

The suspension especially affects airline passengers who used U.S. airports as a transit point for travel between Asia and Latin America.

Those most affected will be passengers from Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines and Peru, who will no longer be granted visa-free entry for airline stop-overs.

Officials in the Homeland Security Department said on Saturday the suspensions will be evaluated during the coming months based on intelligence reports and passenger reaction. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge called the move "aggressive" and said it was necessary to protect lives and property.

Aviation security has been stepped up considerably after the hijacked airliner attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

The "Transit Without Visa" program began in 1952 and allowed flyers who need a U.S. visa to skip the required paperwork while stopping at up to two U.S. airports and changing planes for another foreign destination. The "International to International" program was similar except it only allowed foreigners to pass through one U.S. airport en route to a foreign country, and required them to remain in the international transit lounge.

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