Opinion: It’s time to let U.S. immigrants’ families abroad visit them more easily [San Diego Union-Tribune]

PAAIA Board Member Haida Mojdehi Pens Op-Ed on Importance of TFVA

October 20, 2021

Read original version on San Diego Union-Tribune website here.

By Haida Mojdehi

As we close out National Immigrant Heritage Month and prepare for the Fourth of July, there is much cause for celebration but also an urgent need for action on the barriers that continue to prevent immigrants from achieving the full promise of the American dream.

Discriminatory policies enacted by the previous administration stifled progress within immigrant communities. By unjustly targeting individuals based on their ethnicity and country of origin, families were separated and the flames of xenophobia were fanned across the country.

As an Iranian American, having fled to this country on the eve of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, these actions were particularly hurtful and alarming to me. Banning my community’s ability to reunite with loved ones caused pain, confusion and heartbreak.

Repeal of the travel ban on President Joe Biden’s first day in 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 erase substantial challenges facing immigrant communities who wish to stay connected to those abroad.

Every year, millions of people are denied the ability to visit family in the United States, as there is no visa category specifically designed to allow their travel to the U.S. This forces family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for B-2 visitor visas under the Immigration and Nationality Act. These visas do not target family reunions and result in an unnecessarily high denial rate, for it is presumed the applicant intends to immigrate, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

This problem with our nation’s visa system is nothing new. It has plagued American immigrant communities for decades, but it became increasingly burdensome during the travel ban era which formalized denials through a blanket policy. The result? Countless weddings were missed, seats remained empty at graduation ceremonies, and grandparents are yet to meet their grandchildren.

Recently introduced legislation by Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego and a bipartisan team of House and Senate colleagues will solve this problem. The Temporary Family Visitation Act, supported by more than 20 ethnic and economic organizations, would establish a new, non-immigrant B-3 visa category to allow the loved ones of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to temporarily visit them.

Estimates show that the B-3 category could impact between 1 to 2 million visa applicants per year — supporting efforts to both strengthen American families and build back our nation’s economy. According to the U.S. Travel Association, in 2018, international travel spending directly supported about 1.2 million U.S. jobs and $33.7 billion in wages. At a time when America is looking for ways to rebuild local economies and support the U.S. travel and tourism sector, creation of this new visa category could significantly boost the economy through indirect spending and create a sizeable number of U.S. jobs — an attractive feature that has captured the attention of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles Business Council and the Asian Business Association of San Diego, among others.

And while the Temporary Family Visitation Act is attractive to American immigrant communities, it includes safeguards to dissuade immigration. Visits must be temporary, a letter of financial support must be signed, and the applicant must purchase travel medical insurance, make specific and realistic plans for the course of their visit and limit their stay to 90 days. Further, the Temporary Family Visitation Act would prohibit individuals traveling under the B-3 visa from changing their visa status and would prohibit the petitioner from using the visa category if they had previously sponsored a relative who overstayed.

E pluribus unum, which in Latin means out of many one, has traditionally been the motto of our nation, which was built and enriched by immigrants. However, despite recent progress, barriers continue to separate many Americans from their loved ones abroad. It is time to bring these families together; it is time to let families visit. The Temporary Family Visitation Act can safely and effectively do just that.

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