X

News & Publications

January 14, 2016

NIAC Action Urges Visa Waiver Countries to Forego Reciprocal Restrictions

On Friday, January 8, NIAC Action sent letters to the thirty-eight foreign embassies participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) urging them to forego any new, reciprocal travel restrictions that could impact the Iranian-American community, Arab-American groups and other Americans.

Recent changes to the VWP passed in the omnibus bar dual-nationals of Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Iraq, as well as those who have visited the aforementioned countries since March 2011, from visa-free travel to the U.S. under the program. These measures passed despite NIAC Action members sending more than 81,000 messages to Congress in protest. Just yesterday, bipartisan legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate to remove the provisions barring dual nationals.

While the legislative process plays out, there is still a risk that VWP countries adopt reciprocal restrictions that bar Iranian American dual nationals and many other Americans from visa-free travel to VWP countries. While no restrictions have been enacted as of this date, NIAC Action’s recent letters detail why such reciprocal actions would double down on discrimination and be counterproductive. As the letter states:

“we do not believe that VWP countries should respond to the U.S. Congress’s short-sighted, discriminatory action with discriminatory measures of their own that target dual nationals and/or U.S. travelers to Iran. Penalizing Iranian Americans and other dual nationals, or U.S. travelers to Iran is unlikely to provoke Congress to revise the U.S. law.”

Please see the letter reproduced below.

The letters to VWP countries are one part of NIAC Action’s three-tiered campaign to reverse the discriminatory changes to the VWP. NIAC Action has also reached out to the White House, including through a letter with other allied groups, urging the administration to broadly use its waiver authority to permit dual nationals and others to travel visa-free to the U.S. under the program. Additionally, NIAC Action’s legislative efforts focus on repealing the discriminatory provisions affecting dual nationals.

To: Visa Waiver Program countries

Last month, despite significant and sustained opposition from the Iranian-American community, the United States Congress enacted into law a legislative provision that would exclude from the U.S.’s Visa Waiver Program (“VWP”) dual nationals from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan and one of the 38 VWP countries, as well as any non-U.S. national of a VWP country who has traveled to Syria, Iraq, Iran, or Sudan since March 1, 2011.  As the largest U.S. grassroots organization representing Iranian Americans, we are writing to express our dismay with the U.S. Congress in backing these amendments and are urging European and other VWP countries not to reciprocate with discriminatory measures of their own that target dual nationals, including Iranian Americans like ourselves, or other U.S. travelers to Iran.

Over the last several weeks, we have taken significant action to push U.S. legislators to excise this provision from a broader spending bill to fund the U.S. government.  Collectively, tens of thousands of us reached out to our lawmakers to express our deep misgivings with this legislation and to demand that they reject its inclusion into the broader spending bill.  These actions led to a more clear appreciation from our lawmakers as to the negative implications of this provision to European and certain travelers to Iran, as well as dual-nationals of Iran and one of the 38 VWP countries.  Moreover, we clarified the risk that European and other VWP countries could respond with similar reciprocal measures. 

As a result of these efforts, we are prepared to ramp up our efforts over the next few months and seek to push for changes to this U.S. law in order to excise the most problematic language.  Any reciprocal actions taken by European and other VWP countries risk prejudging the outcome of these proposed legislative efforts to revise the law in its current form.  We kindly ask for your patience in deciding on the appropriate responsive action to the U.S. legislation amending the Visa Waiver Program.

 To be clear, however, we do not believe that European and other VWP countries should respond to the U.S. Congress’s short-sighted, discriminatory action with discriminatory measures of their own that target dual nationals and/or U.S. travelers to Iran.  Penalizing Iranian Americans and other dual nationals, or U.S. travelers to Iran is unlikely to provoke Congress to revise the U.S. law.  In fact, such action may actually satisfy certain hardline elements in Congress who supported the discriminatory amendments to the VWP in the first place.   

In short, as we continue our push to amend and/or repeal this law and shield European and certain other foreign nationals from its negative effects, we request VWP countries refrain from any responsive action that may affect dual nationals, including Iranian Americans, as well as U.S. travelers to Iran.  In order to fight those who would shut us off from each other, we must not adopt their same policies and close our borders ever further.  

Sincerely,

Jamal Abdi
Executive Director

Back to top