Today the Obama administration announced the new visa requirements for travelers who are dual nationals under the Visa Waiver Program. The new regulations are in response to the Visa Waiver Program reforms passed into law late last year.
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 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 on American citizens from Europe and other participating countries.
According to the State Department press release, the Department of Homeland Security will create exceptions for individuals who have travelled to any of the designated countries on behalf of international/regional organizations and sub-national governments as well as those who have travelled on official duty for humanitarian or journalistic work. In addition, exemptions will allow for legitimate business travel to Iran and Iraq. Such exemptions will be granted on a case-by-case basis. The announcement does not shed light on how the US will define dual nationality under the new rules governing the Visa Waiver Program.
According to media reports, a British national and BBC journalist this week was prevented from flying to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program due to her Iranian origin.
While there was widespread bipartisan support for the Visa Waiver Program reforms passed last year, there are growing concerns in Congress with respect to the discriminatory dual nationality provisions. As such, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) introduced bipartisan legislation this month that would address this matter by repealing the provisions aimed at restricting certain dual nationals of the 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. Other Members of Congress are working on generating a letter, which would make recommendations to the administration on how they could better implement the dual nationality provisions into the new visa waiver program rules.
In the letter to the Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the House, Senator 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 and Representative Amash to support their measure and to encourage other members of Congress to sign on as co-sponsors of the legislation. In addition, we will continue to engage the administration and lawmakers with the concerns of the Iranian American community over some of the travel related restrictions in the Visa Waiver Program reforms. Impacting a group of Americans based solely on their national origin is highly discriminatory and un-American and does little to address our nation’s security.