People, Travel

Republicans in US Irked by VWP Exceptions

Republicans in US Irked by VWP ExceptionsRepublicans in US Irked by VWP Exceptions

The US announced Thursday that it has begun applying controversial new visa restrictions on foreigners who have traveled to or are dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan.

The new rules will have some exceptions for people who have visited any of those four countries for business, government, humanitarian or journalistic reasons. But they are not clear as to how the US will define dual nationality, which is likely to further frustrate members of the Iranian, Iraqi, Sudanese and Syrian diaspora — many of whom have never visited those four countries, Politico reported.

Republicans, spurred by their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, were angered by the administration’s exemptions. Some GOP lawmakers had already warned the Obama administration to take a hard line on the visa rules as they pertain to Iran.

“The risk of terrorism emanating from these countries means that any such people who want to come to the United States must face strict scrutiny when applying for a visa,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a statement. “President Obama’s decision to grant blanket waivers to these people flies in the face of Congress’s intent, and the administration knows that.”

In response to the GOP criticism, State Department spokesman Mark Toner insisted that the exceptions will be determined on a case-by-case basis and fully vetted by multiple agencies.

The new restrictions apply to the Visa Waiver Program, and they were passed by Congress in December and signed into law by President Barack Obama. Their stated goal is to prevent potential terrorists from exploiting US visa rules to stage attacks on America.

But they have drawn criticism by many who say they will mainly hurt aid workers, journalists and people who do business with those countries, not to mention numerous European citizens and others of Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian and Sudanese descent.

Europe also is likely to impose similar restrictions on Americans because of the reciprocal nature of the VWP, which allows citizens of 38 countries, most of them in Europe, to temporarily visit the US without a visa.

According to the information posted Thursday, anyone from those 38 countries who has visited Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan since March 1, 2011, now has to get a visa before being allowed to visit the United States.