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Now that H.R. 2029 is in effect, people who have visited Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan since 2011 are banned from entering the US under the Visa Waiver Program. However it's unclear to me how could the US officials prove one has set foot in those countries, unless:

  • There's a stamp in one's passport indicating so, which can be side-stepped by getting a fresh passport
  • One mentions the fact on the ESTA application form, which is obviously easy to avoid

Is there any other way the US might be able to identify such individuals?

NB: I'm not eligible for the VWP myself and don't plan to travel to the four countries above, so it's a purely theorethical question

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    Generally lying on an official form is not recommended. – Mark Mayo Jan 22 '16 at 11:47
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    @GayotFow I'm afraid only law-abiding citizens will be affected, just like with many other "anti-terrorist" laws – JonathanReez Jan 22 '16 at 12:16
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    @phoog from linked article: "Beginning January 21, 2016,...." – Mark Mayo Jan 22 '16 at 13:38
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    And as someone who went to Iran in July/August for a wedding and tourism, I'm a touch bitter :/ – Mark Mayo Jan 22 '16 at 13:40
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There are several ways, but it doesn't really matter.

First there are several ways US immigration can know these things. You might have been on a flight to the country in question. Or the US might find out from one of their intelligence partners. Your own country probably knows you made the visit, if you exited the country on your way there. But that's not the point of the exercise. They really don't care about someone who has visited Syria as a tourist.

The targets of this measure are people that the US suspects of having links to terrorism, but no real evidence. They know enough about those people to know that they have visited the countries in question, so they can't evade the measure by lying. People visiting these countries for legitimate reasons are just collateral damage.

The second point is that if you don't declare your visit on the ESTA, and US immigration knows or find out about it, you are guilty of lying on an immigration form. That's going to get your VWP privileges removed, and make it much harder for you to get a visa in the future. That's just fine by them as it gives them a reason to exclude someone acting suspiciously without needing any evidence of wrongdoing. Lying on an application form is a great way to get yourself in trouble.

Finally you ask "how could the US officials prove one has set foot in those countries". The answer to that is that they don't need to prove it. If they believe that you visited those countries and didn't say so, they can refuse you entry.

  • "Much harder to get a visa in the future": Wouldn't it more likely result in a ban? Or is a ban only possible in the case of an overstay and a decision by an immigration judge? – phoog Jan 22 '16 at 14:22
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    @phoog I don't know enough to know if a ban is a possible repercussion. But a ban is a subset of it being 'harder to get a visa'. – DJClayworth Jan 22 '16 at 14:25
  • That is certainly true. It's worth noting that, regardless, "harder" in this case is likely to be a different order of magnitude than "hard" for someone who, say, appears to be an immigration risk. – phoog Jan 22 '16 at 14:28
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    @JonathanReez Another possibility: you're a bad guy and the US doesn't know that yet, so they give you a B2 visa and let you into the US. Most terrorists' budgets are probably large enough that a $160 visa fee plus incidental expenses doesn't pose much of an obstacle. Neither is false documentation that would hide someone's travel history and/or nationality. I suppose the real point is to increase the chance that terrorists are individually screened though a visa application, which gives the US more of a chance to identify bad guys that they don't yet know about. – phoog Jan 22 '16 at 15:23
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    Making things harder on people who make tourist, business and family visits has the effect (considered beneficial by some) of deterring non-Americans who might make such a trip, so it causes further harm to the economies of the targeted countries, beyond non-extraterritorial US sanctions. It's more like collective punishment than collateral damage. – Spehro Pefhany Jan 22 '16 at 17:42

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