British passport
Changes to the US visa waiver programme will affect thousands of dual nationals from across the EUSHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty

Britons with dual nationality or who have visited Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan in the past five years will no longer be able to travel to the US without getting a visa in advance under strict new rules signed into law by President Barack Obama.

As of 2016, citizens of more than 38 countries who are either dual Iraqi, Sudanese, Syrian or Iranian nationals or have stamps from those four states in their passports will have to apply for a visa to the US. This includes Iraqi Kurds or those who have visited the Kurdish region of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) confirmed.

The new rules are a response to recent terrorist atrocities including the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino shooting, when a radicalised American couple killed 14 people and wounded 22. Neither of the killers were dual citizens but the attack raised fears of further terrorist attacks on US soil as well as European jihadis travelling to the US to carry out attacks.

But it also comes against a backdrop of anti-Muslim rhetoric including calls by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to ban all Muslims from America.

The EU has roundly condemned the changes as have Iranian Americans, who point out that while they will be affected by the changes, citizens of countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan will not. Syad Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters, travelled to Saudi Arabia to meet his wife, Tashfeen Malik, who was from Pakistan. A total of 15 of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.

"If the intent truly is to protect America from Isis and not target Iran and the nuclear deal, then why is Iran included but travel to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is not? This makes no sense," Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council, who has been leading the effort on Capitol Hill to fight this change, told the BBC.

The move has also angered Iraqi Kurds, who have been a key US ally in the fight against Islamic State (Isis) in northern Iraq, and yet will now be caught up in the new visa requirements. Likewise, Iranian-backed militias have been one of the most successful opponents of IS (Daesh) in southern Iraq.

A Facebook group has been set up to oppose the moves and has since attracted some 120,000 members. But US lawmakers have defended the decision. "If a terrorist has been to Iraq and Syria and wants to get to the US, they will likely go through Europe. That's the problem," one congressional aide told the BBC. "Europe doesn't have a threat of foreign fighters coming from our country."