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Executive Order on Visa Issuance, Screening, and Refugee Admissions Policies - January 30, 2017

The President issued an Executive Order late Friday, January 27, 2017, banning entry for people from certain countries for 90 days. The situation developed over the weekend and continues to develop.  The order and the two that preceded it raise more questions than they answer.  We are following the situation closely and are here to assist you.

As of today (January 30, 2017):

For individuals:

  • If you are traveling on a passport from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya or Yemen (the “7 listed countries”) per the latest Department of Homeland Security (DHS) instruction you will not be allowed to enter the U.S. for 90 days (from January 27) unless
    • (1) you are traveling on a valid I-551 (“green card”) as a U.S. permanent resident and after additional security clearance upon arrival; or
    • (2) a specific exception has been granted for you in the national interest.
  • If you are from the 7 listed countries and are in the U.S., you should not travel internationally.  We do not have a legal definition of who is considered to be “from” a listed country.  We advise caution at this time. If you were born in or are considered a national of these countries, we urge you not to travel even if you are a U.S. permanent resident or have a second citizenship (i.e., you are a dual national).
  • The order also suspends (or restricts) visa interview waivers, such as the India “drop box” program.  We expect the result to be delays in visa appointments worldwide.  We also expect additional scrutiny at visa interviews.  Thus, you should carefully consider the advisability of foreign travel at this time, particularly if you will need a visa to re-enter the United States.  
  • If you are currently outside the U.S., we have heard some reports of people being asked to abandon their permanent residence (sign a form I-407) or withdraw a request for entry as an immigrant.  Signing such forms is voluntary.  If you sign it, you will no longer be a lawful permanent resident of the United States. You should refuse to sign this form.
  • We expect increased emphasis on potential fraud and misrepresentation. True fraud or misrepresentation has always been a disqualification for a visa. However, in a time of high scrutiny, officers have less discretion. Please consult with us if you decide to apply for a visa and have concerns about past conduct.
  • We understand that returning refugees are being admitted after questioning. The ban on refugee admissions apparently is being applied only to new admissions at this time.

If you have questions or encounter difficulties in the visa or entry process, please contact us to assist.

For employers:

  • If your employees are unable to travel or return and it will affect your business, please let us know so we can explore options. We suggest you contact your members of Congress and the White House as well. It is important to voice concerns regarding the adverse effects of this unprecedented ban.


The following is a more detailed summary of the Executive Order on visa issuance.


Summary of the Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”


People “from” Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen

The order suspends entry of persons from the following countries as immigrants or non-immigrants (i.e., temporary visa holders):  Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days starting January 26, 2017.


How the order will be implemented is not clear.  Presumably, visa issuance of any kind is suspended and entry on an existing visa will be denied. 


The Department of State and Homeland Security retain the power to admit persons from suspended countries on a case-by-case basis when in the national interest.


This section of the order is entitled, “Suspension of Issuance of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern” (emphasis added). The specific language only mentions suspending “entry.”  How this will be interpreted is an open question.


Future suspensions

After a study of the information needed to determine the threat to national security of any person entering the U.S., entry of persons from any country that does not supply the required information will be suspended until the country complies.  An exception is provided for those on diplomatic visa, NATO visa, and C-2 visas for the United Nations.


Suspension of Visa Interview Waivers

As of January 26, 2017, the visa interview waiver program for all countries is suspended.  This is not the “visa waiver” program that allows certain persons to enter the U.S. under ESTA.  It is the program that exempts certain persons from interviews at the U.S. consulate, such as those of a certain age or those recently issued the same type of visa.  This would include, we presume, the India “dropbox” program.


Screening standards

The order also directs a program for “uniform screening standards” for all immigration programs.  Multiple methods of screening already are in place.   However, the executive order points to identifying “individuals seeking to enter the United States on a fraudulent basis, with the intent to cause harm, or who are at risk of causing harm subsequent to their admission.” 


Possible procedures mentioned include:

  • In-person interviews
  • Databases tracking documents to prevent fraudulent use
  • New forms to include additional questions
  • Identity verification methods
  • A process to evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positive contributing member of society and the ability to make contributions to the national interest
  • An assessment of the applicant’s intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entry

Besides questions about what these criteria may mean, the effect of this program will likely be to slow adjudications. This part of the order does not say that adjudications are suspended while it is being developed, however.  We will assume that processing will continue as before until further notice.


Revision of refugee admission program

The order also suspends refugee admission for 120 days. During this time, the refugee admission program will be reviewed and new security procedures implemented.  Refugees currently in process will admitted only after completion of the new program. People will be admitted as refugees only from those countries in which sufficient safeguards are in place thereafter. Case-by-case exceptions may be made in the national interest.


The admission of Syrian refugees will be resumed only when President Trump himself determines that “sufficient changes have been made to [the admission program] to ensure its alignment with the national interest.”  A safe zone is to be established for displaced Syrians to await resettlement or repatriation (not in the U.S.).


Upon resumption of the program, priority will be given to those fleeing religious persecution under certain circumstances.  The number of refugees to be admitted in 2017 is reduced to 50,000 (a reduction of more than half from the previous target).


Other matters

The order also includes a review of visa reciprocity and the collection of certain data and its disclosure (such as terrorism charges).