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.

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]