New Visa Waiver Restrictions broader than might be expected

Signed into law on December 18, 2015, the new restrictions bar citizens of the 38 Visa Waiver (VW) countries who have been present at any time in Iran, Syria, Sudan or Iraq since March 2011 from using the program; even a short visit to one of the 4 countries since then will give rise to the obligation to apply for a visa.

Furthermore, the law provides that nationals of Iran, Syria, Sudan or Iraq will be barred from using the VW, in effect requiring a visa for a national of a VW country holding dual citizenship with Iran, Syria, Sudan or Iraq. This latest provision may create more restrictions than the text of the law would suggest, as Iran and Syria both consider that any person, regardless of country of birth or nationality, is a national if their father is a citizen. Thus it is conceivable that a British businessman or engineer born in the UK but of Iranian origin for example, might need a visa for a short business trip to the US. In addition, because the VW program is based on reciprocity, the new rules might trigger similar restrictions on US citizens desirous of visiting a VW country who are dual citizens of Iran, Syria, Sudan or Iraq or who traveled there since March 2011.

We should have more details in the coming weeks on how the Department of Homeland Security will apply the law and whether other VW countries will introduce similar restrictions on US citizens based on reciprocity.

Launched in 1986, the Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 38 countries (including most European Union countries, as well as Japan, Australia and Singapore) to travel to the US for 90 days or less for business or pleasure without a visa. Reciprocity rules mean that US citizens are afforded the same privilege for travel to one of the 38 countries.