US to demand visas for some Muslim EU citizens

Congress passes deal to screen Muslims with dual nationalities from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria; EU threatens repercussions.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

US Passport Visa
US Passport Visa
Thinkstock

The US Congress struck a huge spending deal overnight including a measure that will tighten the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) by excluding certain travelers deemed by Washington to be a risk, AFP reports Wednesday. 

Republican and Democratic negotiators included the measure in a catchall spending package agreed to late Tuesday and unveiled in the dead of night that sets federal expenditures at $1.149 billion through September 30, 2016, the end of the fiscal year.

The text, which is expected to be voted on by Thursday, includes the legislation adopted by the House of Representatives last week which excludes citizens from VWP countries who are also dual nationals from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan.

It would also exclude anyone from the 38 participating nations - including 30 in Europe - who has traveled to those four countries, or to a country Washington has listed as supporting terrorism, since March 2011.

Such foreign nationals will not be barred from traveling to the United States, but they will be required to obtain a visa prior to their visit
through standard means, which includes a face-to-face interview at a US consulate.

About 20 million people each year come to the United States without a visa for stays of less than 90 days, including about 13 million Europeans.

Backlash

European diplomats, led by European Union ambassador to Washington David O'Sullivan, have warned of potential retaliation against the United States, arguing the program is based on reciprocity.

Non-profit groups have called the measure discriminatory since it punishes certain European citizens based on their national origin from Muslim-majority countries.

"Once again, members of Congress are using the government funding bill to pursue their extremist agendas," said Anthony Romero, executive director of civil liberties group ACLU. "Sneaking damaging and discriminatory riders into a must-pass bill usurps the democratic process and is irresponsible."

Some US lawmakers had sought to kill or amend the measure, expressing concerns that European nations would offer reciprocal treatment against US travelers.

But supporters of the measure in Congress argued it is vital to tighten the program in the wake of deadly terror strikes in Paris, where some of the attackers were French and Belgian nationals who likely could have boarded a plane to the United States without a visa.

US visa restrictions: not just against Muslim countries

This is not the first time the US has introduced controversial non-reciprocal measures regarding visitors from the Middle East. In June 2014, the US restricted Israeli citizens from receiving tourist visas until further notice.

An internal review found that the rejection rate of visa applications for young Israelis ages 21-26 had doubled, from 16% in 2009 to 32% in 2014; Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro stated that the visa crisis was close to coming to an end several days later. 

Israeli security officials have also claimed they were being targeted by the US, and that hundreds of defense officials were turned away from making important visits to Washington. 

Even major Israeli politicians claimed in May of that year that the US had been "humiliating" them during the visa application process for years, and had been forced to endure long wait times for acceptance and allowed only brief visits to their alleged ally.

American citizens do not need a visa to visit Israel.




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