Over the past couple months, there have been reports of extreme border screenings of Iranians Canadian dual nationals, and Iranian Americans at the U.S./Canada border. In early January, as many as 200 Iranians and Iranian Americans, including U.S. citizens, were questioned and detained in secondary inspection at the CBP Peace Arch location in Blaine, Washington following the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. In addition, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has received reports that Canadian citizens of Iranian descent, are being denied admission to the United States as visa exempt Canadians and are being required to apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate.
Contrary to previous denials by CBP of a nationwide directive to conduct vetting of individuals of Iranian descent and the CBP Commissioner’s recent admission of “overzealous” behavior by CBP officers at the Peace Arch location in early January, an undated directive by the CBP Seattle Field Office Tactical Analytical Unit (TAU) obtained by an anonymous source shows that CBP officers were instructed to conduct vetting on all Iranian, Palestinian and Lebanese nationals born between 1961 and 2001 and any individuals who have traveled to Iran or Lebanon. Furthermore, on January 10, 2020, the CBP released a “Statement on Enhanced Security Posture”, stating “CBP has understood Iran and its proxies to be a very capable adversary for some time…CBP officers may refer for additional screening individuals who present a known risk or individuals about whom we need more information to make a determination of risk. These referrals are based on factors that could include the individual’s activities, associations and travel patterns.”
Since the recent events at the U.S. / Canada border, we have received questions from clients regarding the risk of international travel for employees of Iranian, Lebanese, or Palestinian dual nationality. Although Iranian nationals are subject to the Trump Administration’s “travel ban”, there are certain exemptions for U.S. lawful permanent residents, dual nationals traveling with traveling on a passport issued by a non-designated country, and Iranian nationals applying for visas, admission or readmission as F or M students and J exchange visitor nonimmigrants. Despite being eligible to travel to the United States under these exemptions, Iranian nationals should be prepared for heightened scrutiny and being referred to secondary inspection for vetting by CBP officers when entering the United States. If you have any questions or are aware of any employees making international travel plans who may be concerned about these recent events with the CBP, please feel free to contact our office.