Swiss dual citizens of barred countries may enter US with visa

Protests against the travel ban affecting predominantly Muslim-majority countries have continued across the US and spread to several British cities Keystone

Swiss dual citizens with valid visas have been exempted from a temporary travel ban issued by US President Donald Trump against citizens from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries, Switzerland’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

This content was published on January 31, 2017 minutes

“Swiss dual citizens who are additionally citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia or Yemen are once again allowed to travel to the United States with immediate effect, provided they have a valid visa in their Swiss passport,” the ministry said in a statementExternal link after talks with US authorities.

Such Swiss dual nationals would not be able to travel to the United States without already having a valid visa because they cannot now apply for one, it added, citing US officials.

Confusion has reigned in Switzerland surrounding the thousands of people with dual citizenship who may be affected by US President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban. The US embassy in Bern had confirmed earlier on Tuesday that the measure applied to dual nationals in the country.

“Travellers with one nationality or dual nationality from one of the [banned] countries do not have the right to enter the US and cannot request a visa for a 90-day period,” the embassy had told Swiss public radio, RTS.

Last week, Trump issued an executive order that put a temporary ban on allowing refugees into the country, an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria, and a 90-day ban on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Trump says tougher vetting of immigrants is needed to protect America from terror attacks. The measure has been met with widespread incredulity and confusion.

It has been unclear to what extent the ban applies to dual nationals – those who hold one passport from a country on the list and another from a non-US country that is not – and which countries are affected. Australia, Canada, Britain – and now Switzerland – have all won exemptions for their dual citizens.

According to Federal Statistical Office data, the ban could have affected thousands of Swiss dual nationals. Between 1991 and 2015, 12,657 citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen obtained Swiss nationality.

“I feel really sad"

“There’s so much confusion,” said Elham Manea, a political scientist at the University of Zurich, who holds Swiss-Yemeni nationality. 

While her work focuses mainly on the Middle East, her brother and his family live stateside. 

“I feel really sad,” she said. 

The Zurich professor said she understood the US might want a strict vetting system for countries like Yemen, where “law and order is collapsing”, but added that the travel ban was “discriminatory”. 

“You cannot target people due to their nationality. How is this kind of thing going to make the US safer? It’s not well thought out and was done without proper consultation. It also violates issues of civil rights,” she said.

Since the announcement of Trump’s controversial ban, the Swiss foreign ministry’s travel helplineExternal link has received numerous calls from dual nationals and other Swiss residents.

“We have no information on people blocked in Switzerland,” the foreign ministry spokesperson told Swiss News Agency. 

Swiss International Air Lines has said it would bar citizens of seven countries from boarding its flights to the US as it has “a legal obligation to implement this decree”. Companies that do not comply may have to repatriate the nationals from those countries at their own expense in addition to paying a fine. 

Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter has described the ban as discriminatory and contrary to fundamental rights, warning that it “clearly goes in the wrong direction”.

Protests against the ban have continued since the weekend in the US. On Monday they were joined by tens of thousands of people in London and other British cities. Over 1.7 million British peopleExternal link have also signed an online petition calling for Trump's planned trip - which will involve lavish displays of royal pageantry and a banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth - to be cancelled. A rival petition calling for the visit has gathered over 190,000 signatures.External link In Switzerland activists have also launched a similar online petitionExternal link declaring Trump persona non grata in Switzerland. It has so far gathered over 7,000 signatures.

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