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  • 18 December 2015
  • Posted By Michael Esfahani
  • discrimination

How will Visa Waiver amendments affect Iranian Americans?

With the Visa Waiver Reform Bill (formerly, H.R. 158) expected to pass in Congress as part of the larger “Omnibus” appropriations act by this weekend, classes of American dual nationals, including Iranian Americans, will likely face new challenges visiting 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. As a result of the discriminatory quality of the provision, Iranian Americans will need to know how the new legislation will come to affect them.

Congressional aims to prevent members of anti-American militant groups from infiltrating the US has culminated in a rigid policy that seeks to regulate the flow of foreigners from those participating countries. Individuals who have traveled within the last five years to, or hold dual citizenship with, Iraq or Syria, as well as with those designated by the US as State Sponsors of Terrorism – Iran and Sudan –  will need to apply for a visa when coming to the US.

The language will not affect travel between the United States and Iran. American citizens or green card holders would not need a visa to re-enter the US after traveling to Iran.  It would also not affect Iranian citizens in possession of, or seeking, a US visa.

Challenges arise, however, when dual-national Iranian Americans want to travel to participating countries of the Visa Waiver Program. Where Iranian Americans will feel the impact of the provision is the likely reciprocation of the mandate by foreign governments participating in the Visa Waiver Program. The European Union, for example, already has in place laws that allow for the expedition of reciprocal restrictions in the event that they are imposed by a third party on European nationals. In short, if the provision is passed, dual-national Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Sudanese Americans, along with anyone who has taken recent travel to these countries, will have to apply for a visa prior to traveling to Europe. Consequently, these communities would be exclusively stripped of their visa waiver privileges.

The piece of legislation is a clear example of institutional discrimination that will affect the Iranian American community. By passing the provision, Congress is indirectly, and knowingly, barring Iranian Americans from their fundamental privileges as US citizens.

Sign the Petition


7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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