Now is the Moment for Action to Unite Jewish Families – Jewish Journal

Jewish Iranian American Elected Official in California Pens Op-Ed on Temporary Family Visitation Act

October 12, 2021

Read original version on Jewish Journal website here.

By Sunny Zia

The Jewish high holy holidays mark the beginning of a new year—a quintessential time to unite community and family in culture and faith. 

Sadly, holidays such as graduations, weddings, and bar and bat mitzvahs are often a painful reminder of the barriers that prevent our loved ones from being able to share special moments with family here in the United States. Current legislation before Congress aims to solve this problem. Bi-partisan legislation introduced this year in both the U.S. House and Senate seeks to establish a new, non-immigrant B-3 visa category to allow family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to temporarily visit them. The Temporary Family Visitation Act (TFVA), supported by more than 20 ethnic and economic organizations, is estimated to impact between one to two million visa applicants per year—supporting efforts to strengthen both families and 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.


A new B-3 visa category will make it easier for husbands and wives, siblings, grandparents and uncles and aunts to visit family in the U.S. while at the same time dissuading visa overstays. This is extremely important to me because, as a proud member of the nation’s vibrant Persian Jewish community, I have seen first-hand the issues created by our country’s flawed visa system. 

Recently, a friend of mine made Aliya and was attempting to return to the U.S. with her Israeli partner to spend time with her family for the High Holy Days. Unsurprisingly, their trip was stalled after her partner experienced difficulty obtaining a visitor visa. 

The sad truth is that Israelis and Iranians, among others, are frequently denied visas because of the assumption that they will overstay their visa term. In fact, every year, millions of people are denied the ability to visit family in the United States because there is no visa category specifically designed to allow their travel. This forces family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for B-2 visitor visas under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which is not specific to family reunions and results in an unnecessarily high denial rate since it is presumed the applicant intends to immigrate, according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report.

This frustrating process has resulted in a “why bother” attitude among many. Why bother with the headache of uniting grandparents with their grandkids? Why bother with repeatedly trying to fly in aunts and uncles for weddings? Why bother with hopeless attempts to bring relatives together for the holidays? Why bother when it always ends in confusion, pain and, ultimately, disappointment? 

While the travel ban of the previous administration only complicated things further, obtaining a visa for loved ones to temporarily visit has always been a challenge. In fact, there are countless policies in existence today that unjustly target individuals traveling to the U.S. based on their ethnicity, religion and country of origin. These policies separate families and fan the flames of xenophobia and antisemitism across the country.    

TFVA is an opportunity to support a policy that welcomes inclusion and greater connectivity between Americans and their relatives abroad. It’s time we stop punishing Americans for wanting their families to come visit and break down the barriers that continue to disconnect us from those we love. 

Congress, much like our nation, is deeply divided, especially on issues involving immigration. It will take all of us to make the case for congressional leaders to come together to prioritize and advance TFVA. I am encouraged by the bill’s bipartisan sponsors—Senators Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal and Representatives Scott Peters, Lou Correa, Stephanie Bice, Jim Himes and María Elvira Salazar—and hopeful their unity on this issue will inspire others to do the same. 

Please join me in supporting TFVA and tell your legislators today why they should too. It will take our collective voice to push this bill forward, but the opportunity to get this critical legislation across the finish line has never been greater. Now is the moment to bring our families together by passing TFVA.

Sunny Zia is the first Jewish-Iranian American woman elected official in California and a past executive board member of the Jewish Federation of Long Beach. 

Guess Who Might Come to Your Next Simcha – San Diego Jewish World

Guess Who Might Come to Your Next Simcha – San Diego Jewish World

By Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO — Assume you have an upcoming bar/bat mitzvah, wedding, or another family simcha coming up, and you would like to invite some close relatives living in another country to attend. Right now it is a costly hassle for your relatives to apply for a temporary visa to visit the United States, with the possibility that they will be rejected causing you and them embarrassment, even humiliation.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) in a news release explains that under the current system international travelers who wish to visit the United State must apply for a B-2 visa, then be interviewed so U.S. consular officials can determine the applicant’s “potential intent to overstay their visit or remain in the United States permanently. Factors considered include financial and personal ties to their home country, as well as any indicators a traveler would move to the U.S. indefinitely, such as family connections or employment opportunities within the U.S.”

“This makes visa approval difficult for those who wish to visit their family solely for special occasions,” a news release from Peters continued. “Their applications are at a higher risk of denial simply because they have family ties in the United States. The process also forces many applicants to apply multiple times, resulting in a new fee with each application.”

Peters said he has had “hundreds of constituents” approach his office to obtain visitor visas for relatives to attend family events. They included constituents with relatives in Iran, Latin America, Asia, the Pacific Islands and Latin America, among others.

Accordingly, the San Diego Democratic congressman joined with U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, a Florida Republican, to mount a bipartisan effort to make such family reunions easier.

Peters’ news release said a “new B-3 nonimmigrant visa category specifically intended for relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents” would be created under a proposed Temporary Family Visitors Act (TFVA) that the two members of Congress have introduced. “The application would require the U.S. family member to sign a letter of financial support and applicants to purchase travel medical insurance for the duration of their stay. The TVFA requirements would add a small amount to the overall cost of a trip, but would streamline the process which could ultimately save applicants money by reducing the need for multiple applications. It would also prohibit travelers entering the country on a B-3 visa from filing a change of status application while in the U.S.”

Among supporters of the proposed legislation is Jerry Sanders, the former mayor of San Diego who now heads the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. He said, “The Temporary Family Visitation Act would boost our local economy and promote tourism which is critical as we work to recover from COVID-19. The contributions of our immigrant communities are integral to San Diego’s labor force and economy, and we are pleased to join the U..S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in support of this legislation.”

Another in support of the measure is Jason Paguio, President and CEO of the Asian Business Association San Diego, who said, “The Temporary Family Visitation Act would help ensure loved ones can visit and share in significant life and cultural events, and at the same time, would benefit the tourism industry the San Diego region is known for.”

Under the legislation, family members eligible for a B-3 visa would include spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews.

Congressman Rooney commented, “This legislation will create a new opportunity for individuals to safely reunite with their families for important events such as weddings, graduations, and funerals while simultaneously implementing necessary measures to ensure immigration fraud is not committed. The economic impact of this bill will be immense — especially for the tourism, leisure, and travel industries that are crucial to my district in Southwest Florida.”

Donald H. Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via [email protected]