While efforts are not always successful, the United States does its best to adapt its immigration policies and requirements to reflect world events. It was in this spirit that the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act was passed into law as part of an omnibus bill in December 2015. The Act has created both approval and controversy; still, it is imperative that those planning immigration or travel to the United States be aware of its tenets.
The Act, signed into law by President Obama on December 18, 2015, went into effect immediately. The main provision of the act makes changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) dealing with those who have spent time in, or are citizens of, countries designated as “of concern” or as terrorism supporters in the past. Therefore, people who have spent time in countries such as Iran, Syria or Iraq, at any time since March 2011, are barred under this Act from using the VWP, regardless of citizenship. A British citizen, for example, could be refused entry to the U.S. if he or she attempted to travel on the VWP after visiting Syria the previous year. It is possible to obtain a waiver; however, only specific classes are able to apply for them, such as workers at law enforcement agencies or those dealing with national security.
One factor that is causing significant problems and discontent is that this applies to both those who have spent time in these countries and to those who have a claim to any of the affected nationalities. For example, if someone surrendered Syrian citizenship and became a national of Greece, he or she would not be eligible for visa-free travel on their Greek passport, because he or she has a claim to Syrian citizenship.
This has the potential to cause significant difficulty for many travelers, including U.S. citizens. Regardless of one’s feelings about the efficacy of such legislation in preventing terrorism, there is no denying that it will exclude potential immigrants and visitors based on something as potentially arbitrary as the place they were born. Some countries grant automatic nationality upon birth. Hence, even if someone moves away, he or she will still have a claim to that nationality. A good example of the potential effects can be seen in the case of Dr. Amin Shokrollahi, a German-Iranian dual citizen who was denied the ability to travel only days before he was due to speak at a prestigious conference. He suffered professional and financial losses, to say nothing of emotional harm incurred after being treated like a ‘second-class citizen.’
In addition to harming the U.S. brand overseas and potentially losing tourism and business dollars, it is also plausible that other nations may reciprocate U.S. actions, taking U.S. nationals off their lists of those entitled to visa-free travel. It is not implausible to think that this could cause inconvenience and trouble to U.S. nationals, and may have an even further effect on the nation’s economy.
Enlist an Experienced Attorney
If you are a national of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan, and you fear this change in the law may affect you and yours, it is best to consult a knowledgeable attorney. The dedicated DuPage County immigration attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices LLC are ready to help you apply for a waiver or to help guide you through the process of obtaining the visa you need. Contact our offices around Chicagoland today to set up an initial appointment.
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