Civil Rights Groups Back US Visa Equality Bill

Civil Rights Groups Back US Visa Equality BillCivil Rights Groups Back US Visa Equality Bill

A broad coalition of 65 civil rights, faith, refugee, and humanitarian aid organizations based in the United States sent a letter to the Congress on Monday voicing their strong support for the bipartisan Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016 (H.R. 4380/S.2449), which would fix a recent amendment to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that discriminates against people with dual nationalities, among others.

As part of the omnibus spending package passed last December, the US Congress included a discriminatory change to the VWP program that revokes travel privileges based on nationality, ancestry, and parentage. Passed in the onslaught of fear-mongering and anti-Muslim bigotry following the November terrorist attacks in Paris, the change creates onerous and superfluous hurdles for dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan.

Despite a lack of any compelling security reasons for this new restriction, the provision singles out and discriminates against travelers solely because of their parentage, reported.

In addition, the rules apply to people who have merely traveled to one of the countries since March 2011, with some minor exceptions. Currently, citizens of 38 countries can participate in the VWP.

“Given that citizenship is passed down through the father in Iran, Sudan, and Syria, many dual nationals will be barred from visa-free travel under the VWP based solely on their heritage,” the groups wrote.

“Furthermore, because the VWP operates on the basis of reciprocity, the 2015 visa waiver travel restriction risks inviting the 38 VWP countries to erect similar bans on dual nationals of the United States.”

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.”


The changes to the VWP is not expected to affect Iranian tourism, since only 5% of Iran’s inbound tourists come from VWP countries, but it nonetheless has nuisance value.

Scholars at the prestigious Sharif University in Tehran recently announced they will have to indefinitely postpone the Fifth International Iran Conference on Quantum Information “in order not to put our international participants, and the conference itself, in an inconvenient and undecided position” due to the VWP changes, the institution said in a statement on its website.

The European Union’s ambassador to the US, David O’Sullivan, recently threatened to take reciprocal action against US citizens, which, according to AlterNet, means Americans who share national origin with Iran, Sudan, Syria, or Iraq could face future curbs.

In late January, the Obama administration slightly eased some rules, saying that people traveling to Iran for “legitimate” business purposes could be exempted on a case-by-case basis.