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US House passes bill to tighten visa waiver program

The US House of Representatives, one of the two houses of the US Congress, has overwhelmingly voted in favor of tougher travel restrictions for foreign citizens allowed to enter the United States without a visa.

The bill, which passed by 407 to 19 on Tuesday, is the second security legislation approved in the lower chamber in response to the Paris attacks on November 13.

The measure would require visitors from the 38 “visa waiver” countries to obtain a visa to travel to the US if they have been to Syria, Iraq, Iran or Sudan in the past five years.

It would also require countries participating in the program, which include much of Western Europe, to share information with Washington about terror suspects.

Critics say the bill broadly strips visa waiver privileges from all Syrian and Iraqi nationals. They say the bill needs to focus on terrorism, not the country or origin.

Another security bill was passed last week in the House to tighten screening of refugees from Syria and Iraq following the Paris attacks. However, US President Barack Obama has promised to veto that.

The Senate has not scheduled a vote on either measure.

Debate about tighter border controls has grown more contentious since last week’s attacks in San Bernardino, California, by a couple who had travelled to Saudi Arabia.

In response to the incident, US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, a proposal that drew domestic and international condemnation.

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