Iranian-American Tech Entrepreneur Ali Partovi Becomes Second-Class Citizen Under Visa Waiver Program


After moving to the United States from Iran when he was 11 years old, Partovi became a citizen, graduated from Harvard with a degree in computer science, sold a couple of startups, and invested in Facebook, Dropbox and Airbnb. He also helped launch, a nonprofit organization that focuses on getting more women and minorities into computer science.

Despite his impressive resume, Partovi feels like a second-class American citizen — and for good reason: The government just told him exactly that. Thanks to a provision in the spending bill President Obama signed this month, Partovi will probably need a visa to travel to Europe and Japan — places most Americans can freely travel with just a passport — because his family comes from Iran.

Not only does the provision amount to “discrimination based on national heritage,” Partovi said, “it also misses the mark, because it doesn’t make us any safer.”

He was referring to changes that Congress made to the Visa Waiver Program, seemingly in response to recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. In the past, people from 38 countries, including the United Kingdom, Japan and Chile, could travel to the United States for 90 days with just a passport.

But thanks to a provision folded into the omnibus bill that Congress and the president rushed to pass before the end of the year, citizens of those 38 countries who hold dual citizenship from Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Iran must now get a visa to visit the United States.

Here’s the rub: Under reciprocity agreements, those 38 countries have the right to impose the same travel restrictions on Americans with similar dual citizenship. That means Partovi may now need a visa to visit countries like Japan, France and Germany — places where tech executives often travel.

The new restrictions will make it harder for certain Americans to travel overseas for business, since it takes time for governments to approve visas and employees frequently need to travel quickly and suddenly, said Justin Parsons, an attorney with the Erickson Immigration Group law firm in Virginia.

Read the rest of the story here.
News story from the San Francisco Chronicle.