Lawmakers in the House and Senate are now negotiating whether to include the visa waiver reform bill in the “omnibus” appropriations act, a must-pass spending bill to keep the government funded. Government funding is currently set to run out at midnight on December 16, so the omnibus must be passed by Wednesday.
The visa waiver bill, as passed by the House, would render Iranian dual-nationals and foreigners who have traveled to Iran in the past five years ineligible to visit the United States under the visa waiver program. This would not directly target Americans, but – because the visa waiver program operates on reciprocity – the visa waiver program countries are likely to respond with reciprocal measures that could render Iranian Americans ineligible for the visa waiver program, effectively creating a second tier of American citizens traveling abroad.
Below are answers to key questions on the discriminatory bill:
Where does the bill restrict Iranians?
The bill applies to Iran through the state sponsors of terrorism provision.
In section 3 of H.R. 158, the bill restricts the visa waiver program to any national of a designated state sponsor of terrorism under section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act, as well as to any foreign national who has traveled to such country. This list includes Iran, Sudan and Syria.
Syria is listed explicitly along with Iraq as a country that would render one ineligible for the program. Iran and Sudan are included specifically because they are designated as state sponsors of terrorism.
How does the bill impact Iranian Americans?
Iranian Americans are likely to be directly impacted because the visa waiver program operates on the system of reciprocity. France, for example, accepts American travelers without a visa because we accept French travelers without a visa. However, if we bar certain French citizens from the visa waiver program, France could then respond by applying the same restrictions to Americans. As the bill targets dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan, it is likely that reciprocal measures would target dual nationals from those same countries living in the United States, including Iranian Americans.
The European Union already has laws in place to expedite reciprocal restrictions in the event that a third country imposes such restrictions on European nationals.
The direct target of the bill includes Iranian dual nationals from eligible countries, as well as non-Iranian nationals from those countries who have visited Iran in the past five years. They would be forced to apply for a visa in order to travel to the United States. However, Iranian Americans would likely be impacted by reciprocal restrictions in eligible countries.
Will this bill affect Iranian citizens in possession of or seeking U.S. visas, or Americans seeking to travel to Iran?
This bill will not affect Iranian citizens in possession of or seeking a U.S. visa. Iran is not eligible for the visa waiver program, so Iranian citizens who are not dual nationals of countries eligible for the visa waiver program would not be affected by this bill.
This bill would not prohibit Americans from traveling to Iran. However, reciprocal actions among European nations and other countries eligible for the visa waiver program could bar Americans who have traveled to Iran from traveling to those countries without a visa.
However, it is possible that further restrictions will be enacted by Congress that specifically target Iranians travelling to the United States, or Iranian Americans who have travelled to Iran.
I am an American citizen or green card holder who is planning to visit Iran. Will this affect my ability to return to the United States?
No. This bill will not bar U.S. citizens or green card holders from re-entering the United States after travel to Iran. This bill would solely affect travel between the U.S. and the 38 countries participating in the visa waiver program. Iran is not eligible for the visa waiver program.
What happens next?
The fight depends heavily on whether the discriminatory provisions of the visa waiver program bill are included in a must-pass spending bill known as the omnibus. The omnibus, which funds the federal government, is likely to be revealed today.
If the provisions of the visa waiver reform bill that discriminate against Iranian dual nationals and those that have traveled to Iran are not included in the omnibus, we will have likely succeeded in blocking Congress from passing the bill this year. This would be a key victory in the opening phase of this campaign. However, our fight would not be over, as the Senate could look to pass H.R. 158 separate from the spending bill in the new year.
If part or all of the discriminatory provisions are included in the omnibus, they will be very difficult to remove, and will likely pass both Houses and be signed into law by the President.
Although NIAC Action made the Obama administration aware of the flaws in the bill, the administration has thus far only expressed support for the broader legislation. The Visa Waiver bill was initially supported by the White House and prominent Congressional Democrats as a means to convince House Republicans to drop an attempt to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from coming to the United States and to instead focus on fixing loopholes in the Visa Waiver Program. While many lawmakers now have concerns about the measures targeting dual-nationals under the House version of the Visa Waiver Program bill, there are worries that opposing the visa waiver program language would open the door for House Republicans to add the refugee-blocking legislation to the omnibus instead.
Could the bill impact the nuclear deal?
Under paragraph 29, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) obligates the United States and other parties to the agreement to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalisation of trade and economic relations with Iran.” By barring individuals who have traveled to Iran since 2011 from eligibility in the visa waiver program, many business executives who travel to Iran to explore permissible trade under the JCPOA could be barred from eligibility in the visa waiver program.
While the intent of why Iran was included among countries that would render one ineligible for the visa waiver program is unclear, this could be interpreted as interference with the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran as permitted under the JCPOA. Iran has signaled that it will monitor the situation.
Are we making a difference?
Yes! NIAC Action staff and grassroots leaders have ensured that leading Senators and Representatives are aware of the problems in the bill. Many Senators, including those in Democratic leadership, have discussed whether they will be able to block the discriminatory provisions. There may be more traction in blocking the provisions that discriminate on the basis of nationality than the provisions that target travelers to Iran.
NIAC Action grassroots teams and the entire Iranian-American community have been incredibly engaged in this effort, which has given us a fighting chance to block the bill. NIAC Action members have sent more than 47,000 messages and 1,900 phone calls to Congress to tell them to stop the bill.
How do we stop this?
Lawmakers are trying to insert the discriminatory visa language into the omnibus spending bill that must pass by Wednesday, December 16 in order to keep the government funded.
The path to victory is to convince enough in Congress to oppose inserting the discriminatory language in the omnibus. If we can block this language from being adding to the omnibus in the next few days, we win for the year.
Lawmakers may try to bring this up again next year, but it will be much more difficult as a standalone measure. The Senate is unlikely to pass the discriminatory language unless it is bundled into a must-pass bill, which is why proponents are trying to attach it into the omnibus.
Ultimately this issue will be decided by lawmakers in Congress, which why it is critical for constituents to weigh in with their elected officials in the House and Senate via calls, email, and social media. We are also in continuing conversations with senior officials at the White House as well as in the European Union to encourage them to weigh in as well.
Will the bill become law?
The discriminatory provisions of H.R. 158 have a strong chance of becoming law, including the restrictions on Iranian dual nationals and foreigners who have traveled to Iran. The bill contains a number of measures outside of those targeting dual nationals that are deemed beneficial by members of both parties. The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor last week, 407-19. There is a strong chance that the bill is folded into the omnibus, though leaders of both parties have been alerted to the problematic provisions. Last week, 13 Representatives who voted for H.R. 158 realized their error and urged the Senate to remove the discriminatory provisions.
Our best chance to block the discriminatory provisions lies in preventing them from being incorporated into the omnibus. Then, we will have to work to make sure Congress doesn’t pick them up in the new year.
The further along this gets in the legislative process, the harder it will be to stop. Take action today!
Washington, DC – NIAC Action Executive Director Jamal Abdi issued the following statement after the House of Representatives passed H.R. 158, a bill reforming the visa waiver program and containing discriminatory measures targeting Iranian dual nationals:
“Unfortunately, the House of Representatives took a page from Donald Trump today and voted for legislation that discriminates against certain dual nationals by barring them from the visa waiver program. Under the bill, dual nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan would be barred from entering the country without a visa, in addition to any citizens who have visited those countries in the past five years. This proposal will not make our country safer, it compromises our core values and risks discriminating against American citizens.“If this bill passes into law, the European Union has warned that it will consider travel restrictions targeting American citizens because the visa waiver program operates on the system of reciprocity. This could mean that a second tier of American citizens, including Iranian Americans, would be forced to apply for a visa to travel to many nations in Europe and other eligible countries.“We hope the Senate revises this legislation so that it does not discriminate on the basis of national origin or risk triggering unequal treatment of American citizens traveling abroad by rejecting this backward proposal.”
Dear 2016 Presidential Candidates,
After decades of hostility that nearly brought us to the brink of war, the U.S. and Iran have managed to break through the vicious cycle of enmity to negotiate a historic nuclear agreement.
As members of the Iranian-American and pro-peace communities, we pride ourselves in having played a role in supporting those negotiations, helping to prevent war and halt the spread of nuclear weapons, and paving the way for a more constructive relationship between the U.S. and Iran.
There will still be serious challenges and disagreements with Iran. But America’s next president has a chance to turn the page on the thirty-five years of enmity with Iran to begin building a more productive relationship in order to actually resolve these issues.
That is why we urge you and everyone running for the White House to retire the hostile rhetoric of the past. This hostile rhetoric often makes no distinction between the Iranian government and the Iranian people. It empowers hardliners, undermines those working to resolve challenges, and promotes conflict.
Instead, we urge you to articulate how you will seize the opportunity created by the diplomatic breakthrough with Iran to build a more peaceful future.
The American people do not want more war and do not seek to create more enemies. The success of the Iran negotiations, compared to the catastrophic failure of war with Iraq, demonstrate why diplomacy – not saber rattling and the rush to military action – is the best foreign policy tool at our President’s disposal.
Our next President will be someone who can build partnerships and utilize diplomacy to resolve our nation’s foreign policy challenges. We hope that you will demonstrate how you are the best candidate to chart a positive, productive path forward that builds on the diplomatic breakthrough with Iran and serves America’s national interests.
“This is a stunning victory for supporters of peace and diplomacy. This vote should settle the debate once and for all that this is a good deal. The Iran nuclear agreement was subjected to a massive multi-million dollar campaign against it, it has been scrutinized in countless hearings and forums, it was put to an unprecedented vote in Congress, and it has stood up to every single test. Instead of revisiting this vote or re-litigating the terms of the deal, it is now time to focus on implementing the agreement and doubling down on diplomacy rather than militarism.“Meanwhile, the House plans to vote today on a resolution claiming that the 60-day period that Congress granted itself to review the Iran agreement has not begun because the President has not submitted a separate agreement between Iran and the IAEA to Congress.“Instead of debating the merits of the nuclear deal or presenting a viable alternative, the President’s dedicated opponents are once again resorting to political stunts and conspiracy theories to avoid having to govern. First it was the President’s birth certificate, then it was Benghazi, now it’s the supposed ‘secret side deal’.“Hardliners in the House are playing politics with U.S. national security and damaging American leadership on the world stage. Those calling for strong leadership should not at the same time be actively working to undermine U.S. foreign policy and weakening America’s ability to lead. These actions may have serious longterm consequences by casting doubt on the U.S. ability to uphold the terms of the deal and signaling to the rest of the world that they too should consider hedging on their own commitments.”
Today, the House will vote on a resolution claiming that the clock hasn’t started on the 60-day period that Congress granted itself to review the Iran nuclear agreement because the President has not submitted text of a separate agreement between Iran and the IAEA to Congress.
Opponents of the Iran nuclear agreement were going to lose a planned disapproval vote to block the President from implementing the Iran accord and so, after abruptly canceling the scheduled debate, are now attempting to drum up a political distraction. Instead of debating the merits of the agreement, hardliners in the House Republican caucus have resorted to inventing conspiracies – claiming that Obama is hiding secret side deals cut with the Iranians from Congress – to avoid the trials of governing. In the long term, this is an effort to maintain political momentum to continue casting doubt on the legitimacy of the nuclear agreement and working to undermine it. This is a reckless stunt that undermines U.S. leadership on the world stage and is a clear instance of some in Congress putting politics above national security.
What is the claim behind this stunt?
On July 14, 2015, the IAEA and Iran entered into an agreement: the “Roadmap for the Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program.” Under this roadmap, which is legally binding on Iran, the IAEA and Iran agreed to resolve all outstanding concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program in a timely manner so as to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes. So far, reports indicate that the two sides are ahead of schedule, as Iran has presented its initial set of documents to the IAEA and the IAEA has responded with additional questions and clarifications.
House Republicans’ legal interpretation is wrong
Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the President is required to transmit to Congress “the agreement…including all related materials and annexes.” For purposes of this provision, “agreement” is defined in INARA as “an agreement related to the nuclear program of Iran that includes the United States, commits the United States to take action, or pursuant to which the United States commits or otherwise agrees to take action…” Because the agreement between Iran and the IAEA does not include the United States, nor does it commit the United States to take any action whatsoever, it does not fall within the definition of “agreement” for purposes of INARA and is thus outside the scope of the documents that the President is required to turn over to Congress. House Republicans are simply wrong on the law.
IAEA agreements require confidentiality
As is true of most agreements made between the IAEA and signatory states, the IAEA-Iran Roadmap is kept safeguards-confidential. This means that the agreement is kept confidential between the two parties so as to avoid disclosure of sensitive information that could compromise a state’s legitimate security concerns. This is the cost of ensuring that nuclear programs around the world – not just Iran’s – are devoted to exclusively peaceful purposes, as states are unlikely to grant the IAEA intrusive access to sensitive sites and facilities absent confidence that the information will be kept in confidence.
This effort endangers all nuclear inspections regimes
Opponents of the Iran nuclear accord have gone from trying to kill the deal to now undermining the IAEA’s ability to conduct rigorous inspections and investigate Iran’s PMD issues. This jeopardizes not just the Iran nuclear agreement, but all current and future nuclear agreements by deliberately attacking the reputation of the nuclear agency.
Doubting inspectors and repeating Iraq
It is unclear what the agreement’s opponents seek to accomplish by trying to gain access to the Roadmap agreed to between the IAEA and Iran. Would they attack the credibility of the IAEA to conduct their investigation? Would they repeat the mistake of the Iraq invasion and second-guess what nuclear inspectors on the ground were telling the world? The fact is, they are already working to politicize the IAEA’s work in ways that damage the reputation of the United States and the nuclear agency alike.
Not being nuclear experts or having any experience inspecting nuclear sites, House Republicans pale in expertise compared to that of the IAEA. Deference to the IAEA is warranted: the IAEA was right about Iraq’s lack of nuclear weapons work, while Republicans in Congress – as well as many Democrats – were dead wrong. We should not let Congressional hardliners overrule the experts and lead us into a costly war again.
This summer will make or break the nuclear deal with Iran and could decide between war and peace. Congress is voting on whether to approve or reject the deal in September. In the meantime, they have left Washington for the summer and are holding town hall and public events in your local communities to hear from their constituents. Many lawmakers will base their decision on how to vote on the Iran deal based on what they hear from YOU at these events – how many supporters of the deal versus opponents of the deal show up? Which side is more organized and passionate? What kind of questions are they asking?
If you are planning to attend a town hall, use this guide to help you make the most of it. Let us know if you are planning to attend a town hall and we can help you coordinate and answer any questions you may have.
Checklist for attending a town hall:
1) Find out if your Representative or Senator is holding a town hall in your area–use this tool that pulls together details about upcoming public events as well as comprehensive information about the agreement. Make sure to note where the town hall is located, what time to arrive, directions, parking info and if you need to RSVP to attend.
2) Invite some friends to join you.
3) Come up with one or two questions that you would like to ask your elected official.
4) When you arrive at the town hall, make sure you get a chance to ask your question! Sometimes the Representative/Senator’s staff will be there to take your questions beforehand, but sometimes it will just be a matter of raising your hand.
5) Be respectful, but don’t be afraid to express your opinion!
6) Let us know how it went–did you get to ask a question? What was the response?
Need some help coming up with questions to ask your elected official? Here are some ideas:
1) The President has said that Congress’ vote on the Iran deal is the most important foreign policy vote lawmakers will take since the vote to authorize the war with Iraq. Many lawmakers have come to regret that they did not stand up to vote against the war with Iraq. Will you stand up and vote in support of the nuclear deal to prevent a war with Iran?
2) If Congress votes down the Iran deal, many experts say it would be disastrous for the United States. It would weaken U.S. leadership with our allies and collapse international sanctions while freeing Iran from any nuclear constraints. I am very concerned that this vote will greatly increase the chances for war. Will you vote to support the Iran deal and, if not, what is your alternative to the deal?
3) Personal story: oftentimes the most compelling way to deliver a message that resonates with lawmakers is through a personal story. The best way to ask your question is to frame it with a brief personal story about how the US-Iran standoff has impacted you or your loved ones and explain why diplomacy is personal for you and why you support the deal. These stories must be fully developed (i.e. you should write it down and practice it before you deliver it). Then you can ask if the lawmaker plans to support the deal.
For more information, visit our resource page on the Iran deal: www.niacaction.org/vote4peace
NIAC Action seeks a highly motivated individual with political campaign and Congressional experience to join its team as Political Coordinator. Applicants should have a strong commitment to NIAC Action’s mission to advance peace, strengthen U.S.-Iran diplomacy, and maximize the influence of the Iranian-American community and its pro-peace allies.
Responsibilities include: building strong relationships with Congressional offices and campaigns, developing and executing an 501(c)4 endorsement and voter education strategy, coordinating briefings and events with candidates, tracking elections and polling, drafting memos and website content, and conducting some donor management.
- A strong commitment to NIAC Action’s mission
- Bachelor’s degree
- 3+ years of relevant experience strongly preferred
- Experience working with political parties and/or campaigns
- Experience raising money and organizing events for candidates or for a PAC preferred.
- Experience working with donors and maintaining donor relations a plus
- Knowledge of political landscape regarding NIAC Action’s policy priorities
- Some event-planning experience preferred
- Experience with campaign finance, election laws, and federal lobbying rules a plus.
- Persian language ability and familiarity with the Iranian-American community a plus
- Some travel may be required
Interested candidates should send a cover letter with salary requirements, resume, short writing sample, and three professional references to David Elliott at david[at]niacaction.org. No calls please.
Contact: Ryan Costello
Washington, DC – NIAC Action, the new grassroots civic action sister organization of the National Iranian American Council, released a full-page ad in The New York Times today in support of the nuclear deal between the U.S., UN powers and Iran.
“The nuclear deal can finally take the threat of war off the table and build bridges between the American people and the Iranian people,” said Jamal Abdi, Executive Director of NIAC Action. “Iranian Americans and our pro-peace allies will do everything it takes to ensure Congress does not sabotage this historic opportunity for peace.”
Congress is set to begin a 60-day review of the nuclear agreement, during which lawmakers could vote to reject or approve of the deal. NIAC Action’s #Vote4Peace campaign features ads such as today’s New York Times spread, grassroots efforts across the country targeting key states and districts, direct lobbying in Washington, and a political scorecard to track lawmakers statements and votes regarding U.S. diplomatic efforts with Iran.
“Congress will be under a lot of pressure from powerful interest groups to vote against the American people, who overwhelmingly support this deal,” stated Abdi. “So long as people are engaged, the millions of dollars from Sheldon Adelson can’t drown out the voices of tens of millions of Americans who want peace instead of war.”
NIAC Action is the grassroots, civic action organization committed to advancing peace and championing the priorities of the Iranian-American community. We are a nonpartisan nonprofit and the 501(c)4 sister organization of the National Iranian American Council, which works to strengthen the Iranian-American community and promote greater understanding between the U.S. and Iran.