US visa changes: Three key points

Published December 24th, 2015 - 01:44 GMT
Obama signed the measures into law on Friday, and Iran is not happy. (Twitter)
Obama signed the measures into law on Friday, and Iran is not happy. (Twitter)

President Barack Obama signed new visa regulations into law on Friday, making it more difficult for certain people to travel to the US. People who have traveled to Iran, Syria, Iraq or Sudan, in the past five years, or who have a second citizenship from those countries, will no longer be able to travel to the US visa-free.

Here are three key points about the announcement.

It will affect nationals of countries on the US visa waiver list

Citizens of 38 countries do not need to apply for a visa before traveling to the US, but instead must fill out an online form called an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Administration). Once the form is filled in and approved, it remains valid for two years.

With the new law in place, those who would normally be allowed to travel visa free with an ESTA will have to apply for a visa if they have visited Iran, Syria, Iraq or Sudan in the past five years. Citizens of the 38 nations who also hold citizenship from any of the four aforementioned countries will have to apply for a visa as well.

23 of the countries affected are in the EU

23 of the countries on the visa-waiver list are in the EU. The German ambassador to the US, Peter Wittig, criticized the measure, noting that there were around 200,000 German citizens who fled Iran or were exiled after 1979, and thus also hold Iranian citizenship. He questioned whether it was a good idea to target such people.

Iran has announced that the new law breaches the nuclear deal

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, declared that if the new law was implemented then it would breach the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He called the measure discriminatory, but US Secretary of State John Kerry wrote a letter to him reassuring him that it “will not in any way prevent [the US] from meeting [its] JCPOA commitments.”


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