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House Passes Measure To Tighten Controls On Visa-Free Travel to U.S.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks with a reporter Tuesday before the House voted to tighten the program under which some foreign travelers enter the U.S. without visas.

The House has overwhelmingly voted to tighten the program that allows citizens of 38 nations to travel to the U.S. without obtaining a visa. The measure, which passed the House 407-19 and is supported by President Obama, will now require visas for anyone who has traveled to Iraq or Syria in the past five years.

"The concern is that the so-called foreign fighters from European nations could travel to Syria and Iraq, become radicalized, fight alongside ISIS, return to their homelands in Europe and then fly without a visa to the U.S.," NPR's Brian Naylor reports for the NPR Newscast unit.

The bill also mandates that countries participating in the visa-waiver program keep the U.S. up to date on their intelligence on extremists or risk expulsion from the program.

"You have more than 5,000 individuals that have Western passports in this program that have gone to Iraq or Syria in the last five years," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, according to the Associated Press. "Those are gaps that we need to fix."

The passage come weeks after the House approved a more controversial bill last month that would make it harder for the U.S. to accept refugees fleeing the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. The New York Times reports that Tuesday's vote may stave off lawmakers who want to crack down on admitting refugees to the U.S.:

"The two bills are linked by more than just national security concerns. Congressional leaders are hoping that quickly advancing the changes in the visa program, which many consider a greater vulnerability than the refugee program, will diminish calls to add tough anti-refugee language to the looming year-end spending package by giving lawmakers an antiterror win."

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