December 11, 2015, Washington,D.C. – Today, thirty-three members of Congress issued a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV) asking them to consider making improvements to the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015 (H.R.158). The amended bill was fast-tracked and passed in the House of Representatives on December 8, 2015 by a vote of 407-19.
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 legislation would exclude dual nationals from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria or anyone who has travelled to those countries in the past five years from using the program to enter the country.
Because the program is based on reciprocity, this would most likely trigger similar restrictions on American citizens from European and other participating countries. As such, Iranian Americans could be barred from the visa waiver program solely based on their national origin, and be impacted in a disparate fashion.
“As written, H.R.158 would result in discrimination against people simply because they are dual citizens based on Ancestry,” the members of Congress wrote in the letter. “These changes could result in our Visa Waiver Program partner nations placing new limits on travel by U.S. citizens to their countries. Fundamentally, people seeking entry into our country should be evaluated based on the specific security risk that they themselves pose – not where their parents are from.”
The letter went on to recommend that the Senate eliminate provisions that discriminate based on dual citizenship solely on ancestry, provide exemptions on travel, and require reauthorization of the bill after specified time period.
PAAIA has been in direct communication with members of Congress to express the Iranian American community’s concern with the legislation. We have recommended that the text of the legislation be amended to ensure that Iranian Americans are not adversely affected solely based on their national origin or for visiting family and other legitimate travel plans.
The letter was signed by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Dan Kildee (D-MI), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY),Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Mark Takano (D-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Mike Honda (D-CA), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Michael Capuano (D-MA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Raúl Manuel Grijalva (D-AZ),Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Karen Bass (D-CA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Mark Takai (D-HI), and Ted Lieu (D-CA).