The Jewish high holy holidays mark the beginning of a new year—a quintessential time to unite community and family in culture and faith.
Sadly, holidays such as graduations, weddings, and bar and bat mitzvahs are often a painful reminder of the barriers that prevent our loved ones from being able to share special moments with family here in the United States. Current legislation before Congress aims to solve this problem.
As a proud member of the nation’s vibrant Persian Jewish community, I have seen first-hand the issues created by our country’s flawed visa system.
A new B-3 visa category will make it easier for husbands and wives, siblings, grandparents and uncles and aunts to visit family in the U.S. while at the same time dissuading visa overstays. This is extremely important to me because, as a proud member of the nation’s vibrant Persian Jewish community, I have seen first-hand the issues created by our country’s flawed visa system.
Recently, a friend of mine made Aliya and was attempting to return to the U.S. with her Israeli partner to spend time with her family for the High Holy Days. Unsurprisingly, their trip was stalled after her partner experienced difficulty obtaining a visitor visa.
The sad truth is that Israelis and Iranians, among others, are frequently denied visas because of the assumption that they will overstay their visa term. In fact, every year, millions of people are denied the ability to visit family in the United States because there is no visa category specifically designed to allow their travel. This forces family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for B-2 visitor visas under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which is not specific to family reunions and results in an unnecessarily high denial rate since it is presumed the applicant intends to immigrate, according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report.
This frustrating process has resulted in a “why bother” attitude among many. Why bother with the headache of uniting grandparents with their grandkids? Why bother with repeatedly trying to fly in aunts and uncles for weddings? Why bother with hopeless attempts to bring relatives together for the holidays? Why bother when it always ends in confusion, pain and, ultimately, disappointment?
While the travel ban of the previous administration only complicated things further, obtaining a visa for loved ones to temporarily visit has always been a challenge. In fact, there are countless policies in existence today that unjustly target individuals traveling to the U.S. based on their ethnicity, religion and country of origin. These policies separate families and fan the flames of xenophobia and antisemitism across the country.
TFVA is an opportunity to support a policy that welcomes inclusion and greater connectivity between Americans and their relatives abroad. It’s time we stop punishing Americans for wanting their families to come visit and break down the barriers that continue to disconnect us from those we love.
Congress, much like our nation, is deeply divided, especially on issues involving immigration. It will take all of us to make the case for congressional leaders to come together to prioritize and advance TFVA. I am encouraged by the bill’s bipartisan sponsors—Senators Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal and Representatives Scott Peters, Lou Correa, Stephanie Bice, Jim Himes and María Elvira Salazar—and hopeful their unity on this issue will inspire others to do the same.
Please join me in supporting TFVA and tell your legislators today why they should too. It will take our collective voice to push this bill forward, but the opportunity to get this critical legislation across the finish line has never been greater. Now is the moment to bring our families together by passing TFVA.
Sunny Zia is the first Jewish-Iranian American woman elected official in California and a past executive board member of the Jewish Federation of Long Beach.