March 16, 2016

U.S. Officials: Visa Restrictions on Dual Nationals Don’t Make Us Safer

Washington, DC – U.S. officials on Tuesday acknowledged that prohibitions barring dual nationals from visa-free travel to the U.S. do not make the country safer but could potentially take away travel privileges for American citizens of Iranian, Iraqi, Sudanese or Syrian descent.

Speaking before a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on visa security, officials from the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security responded to concerns raised by Senators about the new restrictions that were recently mandated by Congress.

“Singling out people based solely on their ancestry or national origin does not I believe make us safer, and it is inconsistent with what I love about our country and it invites in my opinion retaliation or discrimination against American citizens who are also dual nationals,” said Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), urging that Congress pass “The Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016” to repeal the restrictions on dual nationals. 

Booker asked the panelists whether barring individuals from the Visa Waiver Program because they are dual nationals of Iranian, Syrian or Sudanese descent makes America safer. “I agree with you that that is not, in and of itself, an indicator that this person is a higher threat,” responded David Donahue, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs at the State Department, in comments echoed by his fellow panelists from the Department of Homeland Security.

Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) highlighted his constituents’ concern “about the impact that the dual national provisions could have on their families as they are traveling to other Visa Waiver Program countries around the world.” Peters noted that citizenship is passed down through the father in Iran and Syria, indicating that the restrictions might apply to individuals who have not even set foot in the targeted countries. Further, given that the program is reciprocal, Sen. Peters noted “it’s possible that a Visa Waiver Program country could impose the same requirements on dual national Syrian and Iranian Americans.”

In response to Sen. Peters’ question on whether countries participating in the VWP might impose reciprocal restrictions, Donahue replied affirmatively, saying “certainly we are concerned that there could be reciprocity from other countries.”

Senator Peters also asked the witnesses how the administration intends to determine who constitutes a dual national and whether any additional waivers will be forthcoming for certain dual nationals. “We have not made a final decision on how we are going to manage the dual citizenship,” Donahue said. Sen. Peters indicated that he wanted to work with the administration on this issue, noting that many individuals are “concerned how the process will work, and we need to know how the process will work.” On the administration’s plans to offer waivers for dual nationals, Donahue indicated that “no decisions have been made, or no waivers have been granted thus far, but we do believe that the law was written to allow for waivers.”

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