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May 25, 2016

VISA Act Imposes Obstacles Against Iranian Americans

 

Press Release - For Immediate Release

 

 

 

Washington, DC – NIAC Action released the following statement:

“NIAC Action opposes H.R.5203, the Visa Integrity and Security Act (“VISA Act”) as currently drafted and urges Members of Congress to oppose the current form of the legislation, which will be considered for markup by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, May 25. As the country’s largest Iranian-American grassroots organization, we are deeply concerned that this bill will pose numerous unnecessary obstacles for Iranian Americans seeking to reunite with family, for future Iranian visa applicants seeking to study or participate in exchanges in the U.S., and for opportunities to build important bridges between the American and the Iranian people. 
 
“We are concerned that, under the VISA Act, Congress would codify a list of countries from which visa applicants would be subject to a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO), providing no mechanism to lift or otherwise modify the requirement. This approach is redundant – Iran, for instance, is listed in the legislation despite Iranian visa applicants already being subject to SAO requirements because of Iran’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism; but it would also tie the hands of any Administration from lifting or amending this requirement as situations change. The requirement therefore risks creating arbitrary legislative hurdles to the visa process independent of any tangible security threat. 
 
“The bill also imposes draconian hurdles and delays against immigrant visa seekers and their American family members. If an American petitions for a visa for their family member, the VISA Act would force them to undergo DNA testing to prove their relationship. While we understand the desire to protect against fraud, the DNA requirement would provide negligible security benefits and impose immensely onerous and invasive requirements on Americans navigating an already arduous process. This process raises concerns about privacy and questions regarding the protection of privacy for American citizens who are forced to provide DNA testing to the government in order to petition on behalf of family members. Additionally, in the case of Iranian Americans, the lack of formal diplomatic relations and banking channels between the U.S. and Iran would pose formidable obstacles to any future Iranian visa applicants who would be required to undergo DNA testing with the law’s passage.
 
“Finally, the bill would make it significantly more difficult for foreign nationals to come to the U.S. by increasing ‘burden of proof’ requirements. This could make it especially difficult for student exchanges in which young Iranians study at American universities because of new difficulties in providing documentation to demonstrate they will not overstay their student visa. The U.S. and Iran have a long history of fruitful educational exchange and many Iranian students have made important contributions at U.S. universities. Even as the U.S. has serious differences with Iran’s government, educational exchanges provide a meaningful path to build and sustain positive relations with the people of Iran. While the number of Iranian students in the United States has declined from its height of more than 50,000 prior to the Iranian Revolution, the number of students has rebounded from a low of less than 1,700 in 1998-1999 to more than 10,000 in 2013-2014. Raising the burden of proof through the VISA Act could reverse the rebound in educational exchanges and undermine the benefits that such educational exchanges provide for the U.S. and the Iranian people.
 
“The Iranian-American community is already deeply troubled by recently enacted legislation – H.R. 158, which was passed into law as part of the FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act – that restricts individuals from the Visa Waiver Program if they are considered dual nationals of certain countries, including Iran. The pervasive view among Iranian Americans is that this legislation discriminates against individuals on the basis of their national origin or family heritage. It has fostered a perception among Iranian Americans and other targeted communities that Congress is enacting the bigoted rhetoric of presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump into law. Rather than move forward with further legislation that targets our community and fosters further perceptions of discrimination, we encourage Congress to repeal the discriminatory elements of H.R.158 and to resolve the other significant problems with H.R.5203.”

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