December 16, 2015, Washington, D.C. – Last night Congressional leaders announced that an agreement has been reached on the omnibus appropriations bill, which will include the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015 (H.R. 158). Unfortunately, efforts to exclude Iranian dual nationals and those who travel to Iran from the legislation fell short.
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. H.R. 158 would exclude dual nationals from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria or anyone who has travelled to those countries in the past five years from the program.
Because the program is based on reciprocity, this would likely place reciprocal restrictions from Europe and other participating countries. As such, Iranian Americans could be barred from the program solely based on their national origin or for visiting family and other legitimate travel plans.
For the aforementioned reasons, PAAIA had been in direct communication with members of Congress and the White House to express the Iranian American community’s concerns with the legislation. We recommended that the text of the legislation be amended to ensure that Iranian Americans are not unduly impacted.
Despite the efforts of a group of lawmakers to exclude the dual national provisions in H.R. 158, House Republican leaders refused to revise the visa waiver program reform under discussion for inclusion in the omnibus appropriations legislation.
Since the spending package would fund the federal government through the 2016 fiscal year, it is very likely that the omnibus bill will pass both chambers of Congress. The House leadership has announced that they will likely vote on the appropriations package on Thursday and the Senate is likely to take up the measure soon after.
PAAIA will continue to engage lawmakers and the White House on this issue and will work to mitigate the impact of any legislation enacted into law on the Iranian American community.
The United States is host to the largest expatriate community of Iranians in the world. Iranian Americans have contributed to the social and economic fabric of America. They serve as government officials, in the military and law enforcement, working to uphold the U.S. Constitution and protect all Americans.
While the Iranian American community is dedicated to protecting America’s national security, measures that adversely affect a group of Americans based on their national origin or legitimate travel plans must be addressed. Creating two classes of American passport holders is highly discriminatory, un-American, and of questionable legal validity.
Click here to learn how the Visa Waiver Program Act will impact the Iranian American community.
PAAIA, Inc. is a nonprofit, bipartisan, nonsectarian organization that represents the interests of the Iranian American community before U.S. policymakers, opinion makers, and the American public at large.