Update on the Effort to Reverse Visa Waiver Discrimination

Our efforts to reverse the discriminatory new Visa Waiver Program law are gaining momentum as we enter a new year and a new session of Congress. After language was passed into law three weeks ago that would restrict Iranian and other dual nationals from the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), NIAC Action outlined a 3-part plan to reverse this appalling move. We have several updates to share. 
The first step in our plan was to urge the President to waive the discriminatory visa waiver provisions as they pertain to dual nationals and travelers to Iran. Already, we have taken joint action with a number of Iranian-American organizations to directly call on the President to waive those provisions. Our conversations with the White House in this regard are ongoing and we hope that, as the Obama Administration moves ahead with implementing the new law, the waiver authority will be utilized so that dual nationals and travelers to Iran are not excluded from the VWP.
 
To truly resolve this issue, however, the law must be changed. We are now working on the next step in our plan: legislative action in Congress to repeal the discriminatory provisions permanently. NIAC Action staff and grassroots leaders have been meeting with key lawmakers in both the House and the Senate to encourage new legislation eliminating discriminatory restrictions as well as to urge them to provide backing for the potential waiving of the these provisions by the President.
 
Based on our meetings, we are optimistic that – in the coming days and weeks – there will be several significant actions in both chambers of Congress aimed at addressing the discriminatory visa provisions. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated that one of his 2016 goals is to fix the unintended consequences of the new law. We look forward to providing further information as soon as these efforts develop further and can be shared publicly. 
 
It is going to be an uphill fight to pass legislation over the objections of House Republican leaders who have so far been committed to the visa language. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) were among a group of lawmakers who sent a letter publicly warning the President against waiving the provisions pertaining to Iranians and travel to Iran. A similar letter was also sent by a separate group of twenty House Republicans. 
 
It will take sustained efforts here in Washington as well as continued grassroots and political efforts around the country in order to succeed in repealing these provisions. We strongly encourage you to continue contacting your lawmakers to provide pressure for legislative action. You can take action to contact your lawmakers and the White House here.
 
Finally, we have sent letters to all of the thirty-eight VWP countries urging them against taking reciprocal action against Americans who are dual nationals or who have traveled to Iran. Our conversations with top European Union officials are ongoing as they prepare to revisit their own rules regarding the VWP in April. While we must do everything in our power to get these discriminatory provisions waived and eventually repealed, it is important that we also encourage U.S. allies not to reciprocate with their own discriminatory restrictions against Americans who are dual nationals or have traveled to Iran.

About Author

Jamal AbdiJamal AbdiJamal Abdi joined the National Iranian American Council as Policy Director in November 2009, directing NIAC’s efforts to monitor policies and legislation, and to educate and advocate on behalf of the Iranian-American community. Abdi joined NIAC’s team following his work in the US Congress as Policy Advisor to Representative Brian Baird (D-WA). Jamal tweets at @jabdi.
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