On Friday, January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the U.S.” Several federal district courts ordered temporary halts to detention or removal from the U.S. of foreign nationals under the order pending a hearing of the issues. The Department of Homeland Security and the White House have now mostly exempted permanent residents (green card holders) from the order. Following a week of turbulence as foreign nationals already in transit when the order was issued were detained upon arrival in the U.S., immigration officials abroad are implementing the order by cancelling visa interviews, revoking visas and preventing boarding of aircraft. Domestically, USCIS suspended adjudication of immigration benefit applications (e.g. H-1B, EAD and other work permissions) for a short period of time prior to a February 2, 2017 memo from the USCIS Acting Director restoring adjudication of all petitions filed by individuals of any nationality within the U.S. Below is a summary of the order’s provisions and implementation. Anyone potentially affected by the order is advised to reconsider travel plans before leaving the U.S.
- Suspension of U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP): The order suspends the USRAP for 120 days. Exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis. In addition, for the current fiscal year, the order reduces by more than half the number of refugees to be admitted to the U.S. from an initial goal of 110,000 set by President Obama to only 50,000, which would drop U.S refugee admissions to the lowest level in a decade. Having already admitted 29,895 refugees as of January 20, 2017, the United States would only admit 20,000 more refugees for the remainder of the year.
- Ban on Syrian Refugees:The order halts the processing and admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely, until the President determines that sufficient changes have been made to ensure that the admission of Syrian refugees is in the national interest.
- Ban on Entry of Nationals of Designated Countries: The order bans immigrant and nonimmigrant entries, for at least 90 days, for nationals “from” Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Other countries may be added and adjudications of other immigration benefits could be impacted.
- Impacts on Other Foreign Nationals:
- Requires In-Person Interviews for Most Nonimmigrant Visa Applicants:The order suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP), requiring all nonimmigrant visa applicants to attend an interview unless an interview is not required by statute. The VIWP allowed consular officers to waive the interview requirement for applicants seeking to renew nonimmigrant visas within 12 months of expiration of the initial visa in the same classification.
- Screening of All Immigration Benefits:The order directs federal agencies to develop screening standards and procedures for all immigration benefits to identify fraud and detect whether a person intends to do harm.
- Biometric-Entry Exit:The order directs agencies to expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit system and includes reporting requirements.
- WHO DOES THIS AFFECT? The Executive Order’s travel ban applies to individuals “from” the 7 designated countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. By subsequent announcement and court order, Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) from these countries are exempted from the order, but may expect higher scrutiny when returning after foreign travel to the U.S.
Any non-LPR or non-US citizen who travels on a passport from a designated country is considered “from” the designated country. All U.S. visas issued to such persons are now ‘provisionally revoked,’ barring their return. Some such individuals may be admitted to the U.S. on a case-by-case basis in an exercise of discretion in the ‘national interest.’ However, such individuals may not be boarded on a return flight to the U.S. unless they receive a transportation letter from a U.S. consulate abroad or are admitted at a land border port of entry from Canada or Mexico.
The Executive Order does NOT apply to people who merely traveled to designated countries.