December 18, 2015

How will Visa Waiver amendments affect Iranian Americans?

With the Visa Waiver Reform Bill (formerly, H.R. 158) expected to pass in Congress as part of the larger “Omnibus” appropriations act by this weekend, classes of American dual nationals, including Iranian Americans, will likely face new challenges visiting 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. As a result of the discriminatory quality of the provision, Iranian Americans will need to know how the new legislation will come to affect them.
Congressional aims to prevent members of anti-American militant groups from infiltrating the US has culminated in a rigid policy that seeks to regulate the flow of foreigners from those participating countries. Individuals who have traveled within the last five years to, or hold dual citizenship with, Iraq or Syria, as well as with those designated by the US as State Sponsors of Terrorism – Iran and Sudan –  will need to apply for a visa when coming to the US.
The language will not affect travel between the United States and Iran. American citizens or green card holders would not need a visa to re-enter the US after traveling to Iran.  It would also not affect Iranian citizens in possession of, or seeking, a US visa.
Challenges arise, however, when dual-national Iranian Americans want to travel to participating countries of the Visa Waiver Program. Where Iranian Americans will feel the impact of the provision is the likely reciprocation of the mandate by foreign governments participating in the Visa Waiver Program. The European Union, for example, already has in place laws that allow for the expedition of reciprocal restrictions in the event that they are imposed by a third party on European nationals. In short, if the provision is passed, dual-national Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Sudanese Americans, along with anyone who has taken recent travel to these countries, will have to apply for a visa prior to traveling to Europe. Consequently, these communities would be exclusively stripped of their visa waiver privileges.
The piece of legislation is a clear example of institutional discrimination that will affect the Iranian American community. By passing the provision, Congress is indirectly, and knowingly, barring Iranian Americans from their fundamental privileges as US citizens.

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