Repeal of Biden’s Iran travel ban reignites debate over whether the US can effectively control Iranians

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U.S. President Joe Biden’s early repeal in January of his predecessor’s travel ban on Iran has yet to revive Iranian arrivals in the United States, but it has reignited a debate over Iranians whom the United States should allow entry and whether existing methods of controlling them are effective.

Biden repealed the travel ban imposed by former President Donald Trump on Iran and 12 other countries hours after taking office on January 20. tradition of welcoming people of all faiths and undermines national security.

Trump had said the bans were justified by concerns about the entry of foreign terrorists into the United States and the ability of US authorities to screen visa applicants from countries affected by terrorism.

FILE – US President Donald Trump signs an executive order he says would impose tighter controls to prevent foreign terrorists from entering the United States at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on January 27, 2017.

In the 40 days since Biden revoked the travel bans, there has been no influx of Iranians into the United States, according to the Iranian-American National Council (NIAC) advocacy group which supports the ruling. President. Iranians were the largest number of visa applicants in the United States for decades, according to January report New York Times report citing Iranian-American advocacy groups and visa lawyers.

“For the record and looking at the United States travel restrictions that remain in place, I don’t think there has been a significant change. [in Iranians entering the U.S.] so far. And I don’t expect that to change immediately, ”NIAC policy director Ryan Costello said in an interview with VOA Persian.

The latest publicly available State Department data for international visa issuances shows the United States has granted 46 immigrant visas to Iranians in January, up slightly from 39 in December. the number of non-immigrant visas issued to Iranians decreased to 154 from 188 during the same period.

A variety of US travel restrictions affecting Iranians remain in place. Biden decided to uphold Trump’s pandemic ban on travelers who were physically present in Iran for 14 days prior to entering or attempting to enter the United States.

Biden also made no changes to Trump’s 2019 entry ban for senior Iranian government officials and their immediate family members and the 2019 designation of Iran Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist organization of which recruits are prohibited the United States.

A 2012 ban on Iranians seeking entry to the United States for higher education courses that would prepare them for careers in Iran’s energy sector or the nuclear program also remains in place. It was signed in law by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, for whom Biden served as vice president. Washington has long accused Tehran of seeking to militarize its nuclear program, a charge Tehran denies.

Difficulties in obtaining visas

Iranians unaffected by these ongoing restrictions have faced other recent hurdles in obtaining US visas. At a press briefing on Monday, Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary for Visa Services Julie Stufft said the pandemic had “dramatically reduced” the number of visa applicants the State Department can serve in its operations. overseas facilities and has reduced the number of visa processing staff who can work safely at these facilities.

Costello said the NIAC had been in contact with visa applicants in Iran who had been unable to secure consular appointments at various U.S. embassies in states neighboring the Islamic Republic.

Stufft said some immigrant visa applicants from countries like Iran that were previously included in Trump’s travel ban remained stranded in the United States by another Trump measure until just a short time ago. week. This 2020 measure had banned immigrants considered to be damaging the prospects for the recovery of the US labor market in the event of a pandemic, until Biden repealed it on February 24.

Another factor slowing the process of issuing U.S. visas to Iranians is Biden’s decision on Jan.20 to give the State Department 45 days to create a plan to allow immigrant visa applicants whose applications have been refused under the travel ban to have their application reconsidered. It also gave authorities an even longer 120-day deadline to submit recommendations on improving screening and verification of visa applicants using foreign aid funds to improve information sharing with other countries “where applicable”.

None of these US funds are likely to be granted to Iran, with whom Washington has had no relationship since 1979 and whose government remains subject to severe US sanctions.

But Costello said the U.S. vetting system is strong enough to make up for the lack of Iranian information sharing on visa applicants, citing U.S. rejections of many of those applicants for lack of verifiable background information prior to the move. Trump’s travel ban went into effect in 2017.

“Iranian visa applicants have to detail a ton of information about who they are, where they’ve worked, if they’ve ever been enlisted in the IRGC, and a bunch of other things. There are ways [for the U.S.] to get the information he needs [to vet such applicants],” he said.

This is not the case, said US lawyer Stewart Baker, who served under former President George W. Bush as assistant secretary for homeland security policy and recently wrote that the dismissal of the travel ban seems to reopen US borders to dangerous individuals. “We do not know the motivations of the Iranians to come here, because it is very difficult to understand this with the information we have,” he told VOA Persian in an interview.

Speaking to VOA Persian last month, Republican-in-Chief of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Michael McCaul said Iran’s status as an enemy of Washington makes the process of screening Iranian visa applicants “very difficult, if not impossible”.

Elliott Abrams, who served as U.S. special representative for Iran during Trump’s last year in office, told VOA Persian he supports Biden’s decision to resume accepting visa applications from some Iranians controlled by the United States and to continue the policies of previous presidents of barring other Iranians from entering.

“I think it’s a good idea to allow Iranian students in general to study in the United States. Our fight is against the vicious regime ruling Iran, not against the Iranian people. We are on their side, ”he said.

But Abrams also cautioned Biden against phasing out a visa applicant screening technique used during the Trump administration, involving the review of an applicant’s social media accounts. Biden called for a review to find out whether the use of social media identifiers has “significantly improved filtering and verification.”

“I don’t understand the basis of the skepticism,” Abrams said. “Social media posts are a form of communication by an individual in public. If the post of an Iranian visa applicant applauds the attacks on US bases in Iraq, wouldn’t you want to know? ”

NIAC’s Costello said he expects some social media projection to remain after Biden’s review. “But how do you make sure that the controllers don’t target someone for a job that Americans would normally consider free speech to be is an important question that needs to be answered,” he said.

This article originates from The Persian service of VOA. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching and VOA Persian Congress correspondent Shahla Arasteh contributed.

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