A new visa rule for travelers from Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria is reportedly raising concerns about Obama administration exemptions that could undermine the aim of the restrictions — to weed out terrorists who could exploit visa rules to stage attacks on America.
The Obama administration on Thursday introduced the new visa requirements for European travelers who are dual nationals of those four nations — where Islamic State terrorists have fought — or who've visited them in the last five years, following Congress' passage of a law to tighten restrictions in the Visa Waiver Program.
The changes were prompted, in part, by the terror attacks in Paris that claimed 130 lives, and were aimed at allowing security officials to more closely screen travelers from 38 countries whose citizens were allowed to visit the United States without obtaining a visa.
But the Associated Press
reports the biggest question about the rule changes concerns groups of individuals that could be exempted.
According to the AP, an unnamed congressional aide reports the Obama administration is creating exceptions for those who travel to any of the four countries for government or United Nations work, or for humanitarian or journalistic reasons.
And legitimate business with Iran also wouldn't be punished. No waivers appear to apply to dual nationals, the AP reports.
It's not yet clear if the carve-outs will even be supported by Congress.
But the AP reports unnamed Republican aides saying the bipartisan legislation wasn't intended to provide such wide discretion to the executive branch.
The Department of Homeland Security said it had started to implement the new rules on Thursday, but there were reports of travelers falling afoul of the controversial regulations earlier.
On Wednesday, the BBC reported that its journalist Rana Rahimpour, who has joint British and Iranian nationality, had been kept from boarding a US-bound flight.
The State Department refused to comment on specific cases.
"We will carry out the law that Congress passed and the president signed," a senior administration official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The Department of Homeland Security... is working closely with the Department of State and other partners to ensure that the new amendments... are appropriately implemented."
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