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By overwhelming margin, House passes visa waiver overhaul

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) holds his weekly news conference at the U.S. Captiol Visitors Center November 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. Ryan said the legislation passed by the House Thursday -- which bars Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the U.S. unless they pass strict background checks -- is very urgent and that he is not playing politics with the safety of the United States. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House has approved legislation tightening controls on travel to the U.S. and requiring visas for anyone who’s been in Iraq or Syria in the previous five years.

The bill was approved 407-19. It takes aim at the “visa waiver” program, which allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. without first obtaining a visa. Belgium and France, home to most of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks, are among the participating countries.

The legislation would institute changes, including the new visa requirement, for citizens of Iraq and Syria or anyone who’s traveled to those countries in the previous five years.

The legislation is supported by the White House and may end up attached to a sweeping year-end spending bill now being finalized on Capitol Hill.

Invoking the Paris terror attacks, House lawmakers pushed toward a vote Tuesday on legislation tightening controls on travel to the U.S. and requiring visas for anyone who’s been in Iraq or Syria in the previous five years.

“This will help neutralize the threat from foreign terrorists entering our country,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday.

The bill, which is backed by the White House and expected to be overwhelmingly approved, takes aim at the “visa waiver” program, which allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. without first obtaining a visa. Belgium and France, home to most of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks, are among the participating countries.

The legislation would institute a series of changes, including the new visa requirement for citizens of Iraq, Syria and other countries that are home to extremist groups or anyone who’s traveled to those countries in the previous five years. Countries in the visa waiver program would also be required to share information on extremists with the U.S. and face expulsion from the program if they don’t.

“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,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “Those are gaps that we need to fix.”

The legislation may end up attached to a sweeping year-end spending bill now being finalized on Capitol Hill.

Separately some lawmakers are also talking about looking at the fiancé visa program utilized by the shooters in San Bernardino, California. That program is already being reviewed by the Homeland Security Department.