NIAC Action Executive Director Jamal Abdi released the following statement after the European Commission indicated it would intensify efforts to achieve visa waiver reciprocity, foregoing a potential suspension of the Visa Waiver Program in reaction to restrictions on European travelers:
“NIAC Action welcomes the EU Commission’s decision not to enact reciprocal restrictions on American travelers in response to U.S. restrictions on European travelers, including Iranian-EU dual nationals and individuals who have traveled to Iran since 2011. Since the passage of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act (H.R. 158), which barred individuals on the basis of national origin and travel history from the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), many Americans have been rightfully concerned about the possibility of reciprocal restrictions on American travelers. The EU decision not to pursue reciprocation at this time is welcome news that mitigates the harmful impact of the discriminatory law.
“However, it is disheartening that both Congress and the Department of Homeland Security have failed to act to reverse or mitigate the discriminatory elements of H.R. 158. NIAC Action reiterates its call on Congress to pass the Equal Protection in Travel Act (H.R. 4380 & S. 2449), and its call on the Department of Homeland Security to extend waivers to affected dual nationals. The EU’s decision should not in any way reduce the burden to fix this discriminatory law. Many Iranian Americans have family members in Europe and elsewhere who have been unable to visit due to the new visa restrictions. The Iranian-American community has a vested interest in ensuring that Iranians outside the United States are not subject to discrimination from our country, as do other affected communities.
“Following passage of the bill, NIAC Action wrote the EU and all 38 participants in the VWP urging them not to reciprocate with discriminatory measures of their own. The letter noted that such reciprocation would further entrench discrimination and be counter to the EU’s commitment to openness. We are thankful that the EU has foregone the opportunity to impose reciprocal restrictions and will continue to utilize diplomacy to address its concerns with existing U.S. restrictions.
“The European Commission’s statement follows an extension of an April 12 deadline to suspend the entire VWP for American travelers if U.S. restrictions on all European citizens were not lifted. Those restrictions included both measures barring certain EU states from the VWP as well as the restrictions contained in H.R. 158. Given that the VWP operates on the basis of reciprocity, EU law mandated the consideration of reciprocal restrictions. The decision to forego those restrictions was in large part due to anticipation of a harmful economic impact and the unlikeliness that such a move would bring full visa reciprocity.
“The Department of Homeland Security has provided waivers to the recent VWP restrictions for certain categories of travelers, indicating that it would continue to examine the possibility of extending waivers to certain dual nationals. NIAC Action has strongly supported the extension of waivers to all dual nationals affected by H.R. 158, but no such decision has been made. Notably, DHS added travelers to Libya, Yemen and Somalia to the list of individuals ineligible for the VWP, but did not extend the restrictions to dual nationals of those countries. In testimony, DHS officials indicated that targeting dual nationals offers no security benefits. NIAC Action is hopeful that DHS will move forward with extending waivers to affected dual nationals in light of concerns regarding discrimination and its views regarding their merit.
“Moving forward, NIAC Action will continue its efforts to limit and reverse the harmful impacts of H.R. 158, including by seeking waivers for dual nationals and legislative repeal of the discriminatory elements of the law. H.R. 158 is part of an alarming trend of discriminatory legislation in Congress that matches the inflammatory rhetoric of Donald Trump on the campaign trail. NIAC Action will continue to oppose such discriminatory efforts that threaten to adversely affect the Iranian-American community.”
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