CHANGES TO THE VISA WAIVER PROGRAM
The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 was signed into law on December 18, 2015. Nationals of visa waiver countries who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on or after March 1, 2011, are no longer eligible for the visa waiver program, commonly referred to as ESTA. Although some exceptions do apply, individuals from visa waiver countries who have visited the countries listed above will need to apply for a visa through their local US Embassy or consulate.
US Citizens and US Permanent Residents who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria do not require any special permission to return to the United States. This law affects only foreign nationals who are among Visa Waiver Countries.
In addition, although there was pressure to make an exception for the law to exclude dual nationals from this requirement, if you are a dual national of the countries listed above and traveled to the country on or after March 1, 2011, you will need to apply for a visa. However, simply being a dual national does not require that you apply for a visa waiver if you did not travel to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria. Some recommend that it may be advisable to still apply for a visa if you are a dual-national.
Further, because the Visa Waiver Program is based on reciprocity, it is anticipated that some visa waiver countries may enact similar laws. Currently, no laws have been passed by other countries requiring a visa for United States Citizens who travel to a Visa Waiver Country and have visited the countries listed in this legislation. In other words, the new Visa Waiver law affects foreign nationals, not United States Citizens or US permanent residents (although this may change in the future.)
Finally, note that Canadian nationals are not considered to be part of the Visa Waiver Program. Canadians are visa-exempt. Therefore, this legislation will not effect Canadians who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria.
EFFORTS TO CHANGE THE LAW
The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has spearheaded a campagin to change this law, which discriminates against Iranians, Iraqis, Sudanese and Syrian people. NIAC accurately notes that "thousands of Europeans who are Iranian dual nationals or have visited Iran have already been kicked out of the visa waiver program, including prominent journalists like BBC Persian’s Rana Rahimpour and New York Times Tehran Correspondent Thomas Erdbrink." To help change this law, join NIAC's campaign to end immigration discrimination.
US Customs and Border Protection has published an FAQ. For more information to commonly asked questions, please click here.