Mojdehi is a board member of the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans and lives in La Jolla.
As we conclude National Immigrant Heritage Month and prepare for July 4th, there is much to celebrate, but also urgent action to be taken on the barriers that continue to prevent immigrants from realizing the full promise of the American Dream.
Discriminatory measures by the previous government stifled progress within the immigrant communities. Unjustified combat against individuals based on their ethnicity and country of origin has divided families and fueled the flames of xenophobia across the country.
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As an Iranian American who fled to this country on the eve of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, these actions were particularly hurtful and alarming to me. The prohibition on reuniting my fellowship with loved ones caused pain, confusion, and heartbreak.
The lifting of the travel ban on day one in President Joe Biden’s office was a refreshing step in the right direction. And while the president’s action opened the door to greater acceptance and inclusion, it did not remove the major challenges facing immigrant communities who wish to stay connected with those abroad.
Every year millions of people are denied family visits to the United States because there is no type of visa specifically designed for traveling to the United States. This forces family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for a B-2 visitor visa under the Immigration and Citizenship Act. These visas are not aimed at family reunification and result in an unnecessarily high rejection rate because, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, it is believed that the applicant intends to immigrate.
This problem with our country’s visa system is nothing new. It plagued American immigrant communities for decades, but it became increasingly burdensome during the travel-ban era, when denials were formalized through blanket policies. The result? Countless weddings have been missed, seats at graduation parties have remained empty and the grandparents have not yet met their grandchildren.
Legislation recently introduced by Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego and a bipartisan team of colleagues from the House and Senate will solve this problem. The Temporary Family Visit Act, backed by more than 20 ethnic and economic organizations, would create a new B-3 visa category for nonimmigrants that would allow dependents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to visit them temporarily.
Estimates show that Category B-3 could hit anywhere from 1 to 2 million visa applicants per year – which supports efforts to both strengthen American families and rebuild our country’s economy. According to the US Travel Association, international travel spending directly supported approximately 1.2 million US jobs and $ 33.7 billion in wages in 2018. At a time when America is looking for ways to rebuild the local economy and support the US travel and tourism sectors, the creation of this new category of visas could significantly boost the economy through indirect spending and create a significant number of US jobs – an attractive feature that caught the attention of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Los Angeles Business Council, and the Asian Business Association of San Diego, among others.
And while the Temporary Family Visit Act is attractive to American immigrant communities, it includes safeguards to prevent immigration. The visits must be temporary, a declaration of financial support must be signed, and the applicant must purchase travel health insurance, make concrete and realistic plans for the course of their visit, and limit their stay to 90 days. In addition, the Temporary Family Visit Act would prohibit people traveling on the B-3 visa from changing their visa status and prohibit the petitioner from using the visa category if they had previously sponsored a relative who had exceeded their stay .
E pluribus unum, which means from many in Latin, is traditionally the motto of our nation, which was built up and enriched by immigrants. However, despite recent advances, barriers continue to separate many Americans from loved ones abroad. It is time to bring these families together; It’s time to let families visit. The Temporary Family Visit Act can do just that safely and effectively.