January 13, Washington, D.C. – Representatives Justin Amash (R-MI.), John Conyers (D-MI), Thomas Massie (R-KY), and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) today introduced legislation that would strip the dual nationality provisions contained in the visa waiver program reforms passed into law late last year. U.S. Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ.), Dick Durban (D-IL)and Cory Booker (D-NJ) plan to introduce similar legislation in the Senate next week.
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 38 participating countries to travel to the U.S., Europe, Japan, and South Korea without a visa for stays of 90 days or less. The program reforms passed into law last year would exclude dual nationals from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria or anyone who has traveled to those countries in the past five years from visa-free travel to the United States.
Because the visa waiver program is based on reciprocity, the reforms would likely place reciprocal restrictions from Europe and other participating countries. Iranian Americans and other American citizens could be barred from the program solely based on their national origin or for having traveled to any of the specified countries for any reason. For instance, a person that who was born in France but whose father is an Iranian Citizen could be forced to get a visa before visiting the U.S, even if that person has never been to Iran.
While there was widespread bipartisan support for the Visa Waiver Program reforms passed last year, there were growing concerns in Congress with respect to dual nationality provisions. The changes proposed in the Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016 will address this matter by repealing the provisions aimed at restricting certain dual nationals of the 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program.
In the letter to the Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the House, Flake explained that such provisions “not only [send] the wrong message to those who have fled the very circumstances we are seeking to address, but would no doubt court reciprocal treatment of similar U.S. citizen dual nationals from our European allies.”
For the aforementioned reasons, PAAIA has been in direct communication with members of Congress, including Senator Flake to express the Iranian American community’s opposition to the Visa Waiver Program reforms.
PAAIA commends Senator Flake and others who are working to address this issue. We will be working to get other members of Congress to support the legislation. In addition, we will engage the Administration and lawmakers with the concerns of the Iranian American community over some of the travel related provisions in the Visa Waiver Program reforms. Impacting a group of Americans based on solely on their national origin is highly discriminatory and un-American and does little to address our nation’s security.