People, Travel

US Senators Want Change in Latest Visa Restrictions

US Senators Want Change in Latest Visa RestrictionsUS Senators Want Change in Latest Visa Restrictions

Senate Democrats are pushing the Obama administration to loosen new visa waiver restrictions for dual nationals that were included in an end-of-the-year spending bill.

Thirteen senators sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson arguing that the new requirements for individuals who have dual citizenship with Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan are “inconsistent with American values,” The Hill reported.

“Singling people out based on their national origin does not make us safer, is inconsistent with American values, and invites discrimination against American citizens who are dual nationals,” they wrote in the letter, which was released on Friday.

Under the new requirements, individuals who have dual citizenship with Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan must get a visa to travel to the United States even if they are from one of the 38 countries in the Visa Waiver Program and haven’t recently traveled to any of the four countries.

The Democrats want the Obama administration to offer a case-by-case waiver to the new regulations for individuals with dual citizenship, which would allow them to get approval to travel to the United States without a visa.

They suggest that individuals who don’t have significant ties to Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan or haven’t traveled there in 10 years, and have lived in a Visa Waiver Program member country for more than five years or are “passive” dual nationals should be eligible.

The senators add that it is “unwise” to use law enforcement resources to give greater scrutiny to individuals just because they have dual citizenship, saying those resources should instead be focused on those with possible ties to terrorism.

The administration has gotten backlash from congressional Republicans after it announced exemptions to the tougher visa requirements — including the right to waive the visa requirement for people traveling to Iran for “legitimate business-related purposes” following the implementation of the nuclear deal in January.

Earlier this month, a broad coalition of 65 civil rights, faith, refugee, and humanitarian aid organizations based in the United States sent a letter to the Congress voicing their strong support for the bipartisan Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016 (H.R. 4380/S.2449), which would fix the discriminatory amendment to the visa waiver program.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, one of the signatories of the letter, said, “This pernicious restriction is shameful, xenophobic, and completely contradictory to our fundamental American values of fairness and equality.”

He stressed that the Congress “has a moral and constitutional obligation” to fight discrimination, and urged lawmakers to rescind this provision by passing the Equal Protection in Travel Act “immediately.”