House Republicans Warn Obama Admin. Against Abusing Visa Waiver Law

Secretary of State John Kerry talks to the media at the State Department in Washington on December 16, 2015. AFP PHOTO/YURI GRIPAS / AFP / YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read
Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images

House Republican leaders are expressing concern and frustration about Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent assurances to Iran that the Obama administration could ignore aspects of the Visa Waiver Program reforms that might impact Iran.

In a letter to Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) warned against changes to the new law.

“Congress and the President strengthened the VWP in order to protect the national security of the United States,” they wrote in the letter, released Wednesday:

Iran is impacted by this new law because it is a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism. The simplest way to eliminate this restriction is for Iran to end its support of terrorism. We are deeply concerned that this point was absent from your recent correspondence with the Iranian Foreign Minister and urge the Administration to press Tehran on this, as well as its recent missile tests and persistent jailing of Americans. The problem is with Iranian actions, not the new visa waiver law.

Over the weekend Kerry suggested in a letter to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that the U.S could waive provisions of the new VWP reforms that impact Iran as part of the nuclear deal.

The changes to the VWP, intended to improve the security of the program, were overwhelmingly passed in Congress and signed into law by President Obama as part of the omnibus spending package last week.

The reforms to the VWP require that travelers from VWP countries who have travelled to the terrorist hot spots of Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan would have to obtain a visa to travel to the U.S. — a requirement of every other nation save for the 38, largely European, countries that participate in the program.

“Based on the letter to Foreign Minister Zarif, we are deeply concerned that the narrowly-intended use of the waiver authority will be ignored in favor of applying the waiver authority to those who have traveled to Iran for business purposes,” the congressmen wrote. “Not only was such an exemption from the law not included in the legislation, it was specifically discussed during bill negotiations with Administration staff and expressly refused by Members of Congress despite the inclusion of two other exemptions.”

They added that the missive is intended to “dispel any notion that the Congressional intent would allow the waiver authority to be used for business travelers.”