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How the new Visa Waiver program rules will affect my Wedding

Iraqi passports, military documents and

Iraqi passports, military documents and Iraqi-Palestinian travel documents are sold in a street market in Baghdad, 11 June 2003. US Iraq overseer Paul Bremer set his sights on tackling Iraq’s chronic… Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images

How the new Visa Waiver Program Rules will affect my Wedding

By Sam R. Saif

This year, I am getting married to an Iraqi-American. As an Iraqi-American myself, I have many close family members living all around the world. You can imagine that after the Gulf War, and then later the 2003 Iraq War, many people fled Iraq in search of a better, more stable life. That’s what my family and my Fiancée’s family did. The nice thing about our families is that they are willing to come from all parts of the world (i.e. Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, England, Canada, and the list goes on) to get together to celebrate our wedding. However, many of them do not know that it will not be an easy process for them to come to the US as visitors.

Most of the countries listed above are Visa Waiver Program participant countries. That means that it would usually be very easy for them, as citizens of those countries, to travel to the United States. They would simply complete a short application online, receive an approval, and take that approval to any airline to get on a plane to the US. However, the new VWP rules require that those with dual nationality of VWP countries and four other countries – Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Syria – must apply for a B1/B2 visitor visa. Applying for a B1/B2 visa means that they must go through a more complex and stringent process. There are other new rules to the VWP, but we will just focus on the one just mentioned.

These are the general steps and issues with applying for a B-1/B-2 nonimmigrant visitor visa:

  1. Complete a long and complicated DS-160 application online;
  2. Pay the $160 application fee;
  3. Gather the required documentation, including:
    • Passport that is valid for travel to the US – Valid for at least 6 months
    • Non-immigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page
    • Application fee payment receipt
    • Passport photos (Usually uploaded while completing the online DS-160 form)
    • Documents establishing the individual is qualified for the B1/B2 nonimmigrant visa:

a) Showing the purpose of the trip;

b) That the individual intends to depart the US after the trip;

c) The individual’s ability to pay all costs of the trip;

d) Otherwise not inadmissible (ineligible) from entering the US;

e) Mainly, an individual must show ties to their home country such that they can convince a consular officer that they are in fact planning on returning to that country upon completion of the purpose of the trip.

  1. Schedule and attend an appointment to have fingerprints and photo taken with the Visa Application Center;
  2. Schedule and attend an Interview at the US consulate/embassy:
    • The consular officer will review the application and necessary documents and will make a determination whether the individual is eligible for the visa.
    • The consular officer has wide discretion to approve or deny an application.

Instead of just filing a short application online, getting an approval within minutes, and easily traveling to the US, my family members must now apply for a B-1/B-2 visa simply because they are still Iraqi citizens. Most of them arrived to their respective countries as refugees, fleeing the violence in Iraq. Most, if not all, have not been to Iraq in decades. They also no longer have any ties to Iraq since all of their family members and friends have traveled to other countries and sought asylum. They are simply coming to the US temporarily to attend my wedding. Yet, they are being singled out for being Iraqi citizens.

Not all of our family members are necessarily willing to go through the expense and stringent process of applying for a B-1/B-2 non-immigrant visa. And should one of them be unable to produce documentation showing strong ties to his/her resident country (no bank account, no school, temporary jobs, not married, no children, etc.) he/she will have a much more difficult time overcoming the presumption that he/she intends to depart the US after fulfilling the purpose of the trip.

For more information on the new VWP rules, please follow these links:

http://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/visa-waiver-program/visa-waiver-program-improvement-and-terrorist-travel-prevention-act-faq

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/us/politics/us-tightens-visa-rules-for-some-european- http://gty.im/2091633 visitors.html?_r=0

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