Last year there has been some talk about excluding all European passport holders who have travelled to Iran, Sudan, Iraq and Syria in the past 5 years as well as dual citizens of these countries from entering the US without a costly tourist visa.
To me this new regulation sounded too pointless and discriminatory to be true and the fact that there wasn't any information about this on any of the US Government sides seemed like a confirmation that it's just a bad rumor.
Well, last week it turned out that this bad joke has turned into reality and the US government indeed started excluding this whole group of people from the ESTA visa waiver program. Twitter users started sharing screenshots of their declined ESTAs online and one British-Iranian journalist had to find out the hard way when she was refused permission to board her US bound flight at Heathrow airport.
The visa waiver program called 'ESTA' allows European passport holders to enter and stay in the US anytime for up to three month without applying for a visa. Instead, travellers can just file the ESTA form online up to 72 hours before boarding their flight.
Travelling with ESTA has given countless people like me who have friends, family or professional ties in the US the opportunity to keep up these ties without any hustle or added costs that normally come with a visa.
I have lived and studied in the US for the better half of a decade and since then always considered New York as my second home. Whenever I felt 'homesick' missing my old friends who became like family or the city itself, whenever I had the opportunity to work from our New York office for a few weeks I would just book a flight and go without worrying if I might actually get a visa to do so.
According to the new regulations this won't be possible anymore because I have visited Iran and Sudan last year. From now on, everyone who has dual citizenship or who has travelled to Iran, Sudan, Iraq and Syria will have to go through a gruelling visa procedure:
First you will have to make an appointment at the US embassy and then most likely take a half day off work to attend the visa interview. Then you will have to go through some thorough questioning of why you want to visit the US, what you will be doing there, who you will stay with and so on. On top of all that you have the pleasure of paying 160 $ for that inconvenience. That is, if you do get the visa because there is no guarantee for that neither.
All this because apparently having visited or worked in one of these countries or even worse being a dual citizen makes one now automatically a suspicious person.
I can't see how this would make any sense or how it would make anyone safer. If any terror groups such as ISIS wanted to commit an attack they would surely be able to find someone who hasn't traveled to any of these countries or doesn't have a dual citizenship.
Most of the Paris attackers for example were actually French or Belgian citizens and some of them have never even traveled to Syria or Iraq. Terrorism has nothing to do with passports or previous travel destinations.
To me, these new visa regulations sound like a slippery slope: The next step might be to ban a whole group of people based on their ethnicity followed by just banning all Muslims.
Then again, looking at the Republican front runner Donald Trump this might actually be a very likely scenario if people don't start speaking up against all these 'war on terror' related discriminatory and pointless new regulations.