UPDATE: Trump Travel Ban In Effect, Sowing Confusion Over Implementation and Prompting Legal Challenges Nationwide
In a major shift to U.S. visa policy, President Trump signed an Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Entry into the United States by Foreign Nationals” [full text] on January 27, 2017. The order temporarily suspends visa issuance and entry into the United States of foreign nationals traveling on passports from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. It will likely also create an immediate and substantial increase in wait times for non-immigrant visa appointments worldwide due to the suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program. The order went into effect immediately, though implementation has been inconsistent as the administration continues to develop guidance regarding which individuals are affected. Multiple lawsuits throughout the country have been filed challenging the legality of the executive order. The situation remains fluid.
Key elements of the Executive Order include:
- Uniform Immigration Benefits Screening: Development of additional uniform screening standards and procedures for all immigration benefits designed to identify fraud and intent to cause harm. This may include a process to evaluate an applicant’s “likelihood of becoming a positive contributing member of society” and their “ability to make contributions to the national interest.”
- Refugee Admissions: Suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, with resumption only for nationals of countries for whom it is determined that sufficient vetting is in place. Refugee processing and admission for Syrian nationals is suspended indefinitely. Priority given to refugees on the basis of religious-based persecution provided that they are a minority religion in their country of nationality. Places limit of 50,000 refugee admissions for FY 2017. Case-by-case exceptions to this policy are possible if in the national interest.
- Additional elements include: Expedited completion and implementation of the Biometric Entry-Exit system; Review of all visa reciprocity agreements, and regular publication of information relating to terrorism and gender-based violence involving foreign-born individuals in the United States.
Although the travel ban is in effect, the situation remains fluid as the Trump administration continues to develop guidance regarding which individuals may be affected. In response to multiple lawsuits filed by several civil rights organizations immediately following the signing of the executive order, federal courts throughout the country have issued limited stays of certain aspects of the executive order, although it is still unclear whether DHS is complying. Implementation of the executive order by DHS has been inconsistent due to the high level of uncertainty regarding its applicability. Meanwhile, the Department of State (DOS) has cancelled interviews and halted issuance of all visas to individuals subject to the executive order.
There have been numerous credible reports of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers pressuring returning LPRs to abandon their status at ports of entry throughout the country. Subject to the advice of a qualified immigration attorney, LPRs should not abandon their status nor sign Form I-407 if asked to do so by a CBP officer.
The suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program will have a major effect on visa processing as overseas embassies and consulates adjust their staffing and workflows to the new reality. These adjustments will likely result in an immediate and substantial increase in wait times for visa appointments worldwide. All SGG clients should plan accordingly.
Such a wide-ranging policy shift introducing enhanced vetting procedures will present an immense challenge for implementing agencies such as the DOS, DHS, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. We have already observed and expect further increased delays, inconsistent decision-making, and adjudication errors as those agencies try to execute President Trump’s directive.
In these uncertain times, we encourage you to contact SGG if you believe you may be adversely affected by these policy changes so that we can develop an effective strategy going forward. SGG will continue to follow these developments and provide regular updates.