Urgent Action Needed on Visa Waiver Bill Affecting Our Community

Dear members and friends:

Urgent action is needed to stop H.R. 158, the Visa Waiver bill rushing through Congress, which can turn Iranian Americans into a “second class” of U.S. passport holders. Despite various communications on this issue, there still appears to be some confusion about it, including what the legislation is, how it affects our community, and the extent to which an urgent response is needed. We urge you to review this brief summary, and spend a few minutes in the next two days to help with an issue of critical importance to our community.

What Is The Issue:
Currently, nationals of 38 countries can travel to the U.S. without visas for stays of up to 90 days; and in exchange, U.S. citizens and nationals can travel to those countries without visas (Visa Waiver Program). The proposed legislation will likely have the effect of excluding Iranian-Americans, and anyone who has visited Iran in the past five years, from the Visa Waiver Program – effectively meaning they will need visas to travel to the 38 countries in question. So, for example, Iranian Americans who are dual U.S. / Iran nationals, or any who have visited family in Iran in the past 5 years, would likely need visas to travel to places our community frequently visits, like most of Europe, Australia, Japan and other countries.
This legislation appears to have been written to increase security for the Visa Waiver Program, in an effort to prevent terrorists from entering the U.S. It was modified based on the stated concern of excluding nationals of countries where ISIS (or ISIL) operates, such as Iraq and Syria. However, inexplicably, the House amended this bill to include a few other countries, including Iran, even though there has not even been a purported claim of links between ISIS (or similar terrorist threats) with Iran or those of Iranian descent.
So, in sum, despite the fact that Iranian Americans are one of the most successful minorities in this country, if this legislation successfully proceeds as written, we may all very well become “second class” passport holders who need visas to travel to locations where nearly all other U.S. passport holders can go without them. – all based on our ancestry.

For more information about the Visa Waiver Bill, please click on the following link to see a detailed explanation by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA): Everything you Need to Know about the Visa Waiver Bill

What You Can Do:
This issue is of critical importance to our community and our time is extremely limited. The House of Representatives fast-tracked and passed the bill by an overwhelming majority (including almost all Democrats) on December 8, 2015. A vote set in the Senate was postponed by few days – until Wednesday, December 16, 2015 – while the it considers different versions of the bill. And unfortunately, the White House has already expressed support for the House version of the bill. This means that our best chance to affect the outcome of this legislation will be in the Senate, and we only have 2 DAYS to act.
The good news is there are a few quick and easy things you can do, all of which you can accomplish within minutes:
  1. Contact your House Representative and Senators. The most effective way to be heard is to contact your congressional representatives, and either talk to their staff or leave a message, urging them not to pass the bill as written. Be sure to identify yourself and your city. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has created a useful page that will help you identify and contact (via phone or social media) your representatives and senators. It will only take you a few minutes. Contact Your Representative.
  2. Sign one or more petitions opposing the bill. There are petitions by both PAAIA and NIAC already in existence. Signing them will take seconds, and the more people that sign on the better. Links to each are here: PAAIA petition; NIAC petition.
  3.  Spread the word. Email this summary to, and share this issue with, your friends and urge them to get involved right away.
What IABA Is Doing:
In addition to educating and calling the Iranian-American community to action, IABA will remain closely involved with this legislation. Among other things, IABA will:
  1. Contact Senators and House Representatives in an effort to stop the bill from passing;
  2. Work with other community and advocacy groups to coordinate efforts in stopping this bill;
  3. Research whether this bill, if passed, will be subject to legal and/or constitutional challenges; and
  4. Monitor the situation and provide updates as appropriate.

Thank you for taking the time to deal with this important issue.
Babak Yousefzadeh, President
IABA National Board of Directors