Iranian Americans in limbo after new travel rules
Long Beach, Calif. — U.S. Navy veteran Mohammed Jahanfar has traveled overseas four times in the last year to visit his Iranian fiancee, most recently hoping to complete government paperwork that would allow her to come live with him in the United States.
But the 39-year-old now fears they will be forever separated after President Donald Trump’s administration rolled out new restrictions blocking most Iranians from traveling to America. The new restrictions covering citizens of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — and some Venezuelan government officials and their families — are to go into effect Oct. 18.
“It is devastating,” said Jahanfar, who works as a salesman in Long Beach, California, and has lived in the United States for three decades. “There should be no reason why my fiancée, who is an educated person in Iran, who has a master’s degree, why we cannot be with each other. I cannot wrap my head around it.”
This is the Trump administration’s third measure to limit travel following a broad ban that sparked chaos at U.S. airports in January and a temporary order issued months later that was challenged in the courts and expired last weekend.
Jahanfar is among 385,000 Iranian immigrants in the United States, according to the Census Bureau, more than any of the other countries covered by the travel restrictions issued last weekend.
The U.S. has a many-layered history with Iran, a Middle Eastern ally until the pro-American shah was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The shah came to the U.S. and so did tens of thousands of other Iranians.
Now, the U.S. and Iranian governments have no diplomatic relations. Even so, many Iranians and Iranian-Americans have been able to regularly travel back and forth and kept close family relations.
The new restrictions range from an indefinite ban on visas for citizens of Syria to more targeted limitations. Iranians will not be eligible for immigrant, tourism or business visas but remain eligible for student and cultural exchange visas if they undergo additional scrutiny.
The measures target countries that the Department of Homeland Security says fail to share sufficient information with the U.S. or haven’t taken necessary security precautions.
Iranian-American advocates said they’ve been fielding phone calls from frantic community members who fear they will remain separated from family or their dreams. Already, many Iranian visa applicants find themselves caught up in lengthy security checks, delaying their travel plans.
“People don’t know what to do,” said Ally Bolour, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles. “If you are from one of these banned countries, there is just so much going on already. This just adds another layer and people are just petrified.”
Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said the ban seems aimed at punishing mainly Muslim countries.
“This process does not start with, ‘OK, where does the threat emanate from, and what can we do about it?’” Parsi said. “It started with, ‘What are the countries we have bad relations with and what can we do there?’”
The new rules permit, but do not guarantee, case-by-case waivers for citizens of the affected countries who meet certain criteria. It’s unclear, however, how difficult it will be to obtain a waiver and consular officers have broad discretion over these applications, said Diane Rish, associate director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
The rules have also damped some Iranians’ desire to be here. Hanieh, who did not want her last name used fearing reprisals from officials in the U.S. or Iran, said she is finishing her doctorate in the United States but seeking jobs in Canada due to uncertainty about whether she will be able to work here and what she sees as growing anti-Iranian sentiment.
She said her parents received word from U.S. consular officials this week they will not be able to travel for her graduation because of the ban.
Jahanfar, whose family left Iran after the country’s revolution, said he doesn’t know what he will do. He proposed to his fiancee last year after the pair, who met as children in Iran, had reconnected. He applied for a fiancee visa in January and traveled to Abu Dhabi earlier this month for an interview with U.S. consular officials, but was told it would be delayed.
Now, he said their lives are in limbo.
“It is pointless,” he said. “One person can decide something — they don’t understand how many lives they’ll affect with one decision they make.”