On September 24th, the Trump administration introduced a series of new travel restrictions on eight countries. Travel ban 3.0, for clarity sake, was in many ways predictable, but also contained a few significant surprises.
The bottom-line for Iranian Americans and their friends and family abroad is that travel ban 3.0 continues version 2.0’s suspension of entry in the U.S. by Iranian nationals (among others) who lack a bona fide relationship with a U.S. person or entity. On October 18th, however, a new, indefinite suspension of entry into the U.S. by Iranian nationals will come into effect. Iranian nationals will no longer be permitted to obtain immigrant and non-immigrant visas for entry into the U.S., even including those who have a bona fide relationship with a US person or entity. Important exemptions remain, but travel ban 3.0 represents a near total denial of entry for Iranian nationals and others.
Travel Ban 2.0
Travel ban 3.0 is the result of a Department of State review set in motion by travel ban 2.0. Recall that version 2.0, officially Executive Order 13780, ordered the Secretary of Homeland Security to determine “a comprehensive set of criteria” against which the Secretary would evaluate the capabilities of foreign governments to help the U.S. government to identify which of their nations attempting to enter the U.S. pose national security threats. The Secretary of Homeland Security came up with the following three criteria:
1. The integrity and rigor of the country’s travel documentation;
2. The willingness of the government to share information on its nationals with the U.S. government; and
3. The presence of terrorists in a country’s territory
These criteria, as version 3.0 repeats, would enable the U.S. government to achieve its “foreign policy, national security, and counterterrorism goals.”
As the next step the executive order instructed the Secretary of State to assess whether foreign countries fulfill these criteria and to request that the countries that fall short of these standards improve their practices. Finally, based on the findings of this review the Secretary of State would recommend to the president which countries to target with the new travel ban.
While the Departments of Homeland Security and State were engaged in this work, version 2.0 suspended entry into the U.S. of nationals from six predominantly Muslim countries. Several rulings by U.S. courts placed injunctions on this order, although the Supreme Court lifted these injunctions and allowed the administration to deny entry to nationals from those countries who lack a bona fide relationship with a U.S. person or entity. This suspension will remain in effect under the new travel ban.
Travel Ban 3.0
The results of the review by the Department of State are in, and the following countries were found to be deficient in each of the three aforementioned criteria: Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, North Korea, Chad, and Venezuela.
Starting October 18th, nationals from these countries – with the exception of Venezuela and Somalia – will be denied both immigrant and non-immigrant visas for entry into the U.S.; this ban also includes nationals who have a bona fide relationship with a U.S. person or entity. As for Venezuela the ban applies only to certain top officials, and Somalis are permitted nonimmigrant visas.
Although travel ban 3.0 places stringent restrictions on entry, certain general exemptions, case-by-case waivers, and country-specific exemptions are allowed.
General exemptions are made for the following categories of nationals from the aforementioned countries:
1. Persons who are in the U.S. on valid visas before October 18th;
2. Lawful permanent residents of the U.S.;
3. Nationals on humanitarian or advanced parole in the U.S.;
4. Dual nationals of non-designated countries;
5. Holders of diplomatic visas; and
6. Nationals already granted asylum or refugee status in the U.S.
Case-by-case waivers may be granted at the discretion of consular officers to nationals for whom denial would cause “undue hardship”, who do not pose threats, and whose entry would be in the national interest. Individuals in this category could include nationals who have already been admitted to the U.S. on work or study visas, or who have “significant contacts with the U.S.”, but will be outside the country on October 18th; who have “significant business or professional obligations” that would be impaired if denied entry; who, seeking to visit a family member who is a lawful permanent resident, would incur “undue hardship” if denied entry; who are seeking entry for medical care; or who are or have been employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government. If you think you might be eligible for this waiver, please call our offices, or consult an immigration lawyer.
The new travel ban also grants exemptions that are unique to the individual designated countries. Iranian nationals, for example, are permitted to enter the U.S. on a student visa (F and M) or an exchange visa (J), though they should expect enhanced scrutiny.
(Still) A Poorly Written Regulation
Unlike the previous two iterations of the travel ban, version 3.0 succeeds in cloaking the restrictions in a veneer of rationality, deliberation, and objectivity; however, upon a closer look it is clear that the travel ban remains a poorly written regulation.
The most glaring example is the dropping of Sudan from the list of targeted countries. While Iran is chastised as a state sponsor of terrorism, there is no mention of Sudan, which continues to appear alongside Iran on the Department of State’s list of designated state sponsors of terrorism.
Then there are the surprising additions of Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela to the list. Chad, for one, has been a valuable partner in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel, as the new ban itself acknowledges, and is not often cited as a source of destabilizing terrorism. Moreover, North Korea is not a source of immigrants to the U.S., as its government does not allow its citizens to leave the country. The choice to target certain top Venezuelan government officials, to the exemption of ordinary citizens, is in line with new financial sanctions placed on Venezuela in August, yet the rationale presented in the travel ban is perplexing. Despite the fact that Venezuela’s government is “uncooperative” and its information sharing policies “inadequate”, the text of the ban asserts that U.S. government has access to “alternative sources” to verify the identities of Venezuelan nationals. For this reason, the Secretary of State’s review recommended imposing restrictions only on the top government officials “who are responsible for the identified inadequacies”. The order does not specify what those “alternative sources” are. Nor does it defend the choice of officials’ role in setting travel policy as the criterion to determine which officials should be designated.
In short, travel ban 3.0 will significantly curtail entry into the U.S. of nationals from several countries, and its convoluted regulations will create difficulties for officials working to enforce them and for individuals specifically exempted from the restrictions. Therefore, if you or a member of your family is planning to enter the U.S., we advise that you consult with an immigration lawyer prior to travel so that you know if and how you will be affected.