It’s not just a few countries. It’s not just about Muslims. And in some cases, it’s probably won’t be temporary, either.
President Donald Trump’s newly revised travel ban may at first seem to be more limited in its reach than his sweeping earlier order suspending refugee admissions and barring entry for citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries.
But the new order, signed Monday, still contains provisions that could ultimately slow travel and immigration to the United States from every corner of the globe. The order could ultimately backfire on Americans wishing to travel abroad, and, for some countries, what appear to be temporary bans could effectively prove permanent.
The revised order appears to reflect Trump’s “America first” philosophy, one that views immigrants as a threat to the U.S. economy and national security. The order’s specific targeting of six predominantly Muslim countries also underscores the strong influence of Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, both of whom are bent on limiting immigration in general but who hold hard-line views on Muslims in particular.
The administration says the executive order is critical to stopping potential terrorists from infiltrating the United States. But, analysts say, there are already signs the White House’s actions are having a chilling effect on the number of people from around the world who wish to visit the United States.
“What this document promises is the beginning, and not the end, of a new and potentially very broad set of immigration restrictions,” said Omar Jadwat of the American Civil Liberties Union, one of several groups that turned to the courts to block Trump’s original executive order.
The revised order takes effect on March 16. It imposes a 120-day halt to the admission of all refugees to the United States. It also imposes a 90-day ban on the entry of people from six Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Both the refugee program and immigration relationships with the six countries are to undergo a review by the administration.
The president is also ordering the Department of Homeland Security, in the next 20 days, to “perform a global, country-by-country review of the identity and security information that each country provides to the U.S. government to support U.S. visa and other immigration benefit determinations,” according to a fact sheet provided by the administration. “Countries will then have 50 days to comply with requests from the U.S. government to update or improve the quality of the information they provide.”
That raises the possibility that countries beyond the six being singled out could find their citizens barred from reaching U.S. shores either as visitors or immigrants.
U.S. officials were coy about what information they would require other countries to provide about their citizens, or what other steps they would expect other capitals to take, and odds are that each country would be treated on a case-by-case basis. Still, it’s hard to imagine U.S. rivals such as China or Russia acceding to every U.S. demand to help them vet their citizens. In some cases, the administrative burden may be too much for some governments to handle, especially in developing countries that have limited capacity.
That being said, political considerations also may play a role. The countries with stronger lobbying networks in Washington, or which are deemed strategically important allies or economic partners, could have an advantage.
Critics of the executive order point to the list of the countries whose citizens are banned for 90 days as an example of the questionable standards being applied.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, whose citizens have been implicated in several terrorist attacks on the United States, were left off the list. But both are considered important partners in the fight against terrorist networks, and the Saudis in particular have a strong lobbying presence in Washington.
Separately, the original executive order also included Iraq. But Iraqi officials, pointing to the fact that they are an ally of the United States in the battle against the Islamic State terrorist network, pushed hard for an exemption. Trump aides said the Iraqis pledged to step up their information sharing for the immigration vetting process.
Several of the other six countries may not be willing or able to meet new vetting standards demanded by Trump. That means that although the ban on the six is said to be temporary, in some or all the cases it could prove indefinite.
Iran could be the hardest hit. Iranian citizens make up the largest number of immigrants or non-immigrant visitors among the six countries, with some 42,500 visas issued in 2015 out of roughly 74,000 for the six countries combined. But Iran doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the United States, and it may balk at new U.S. vetting demands. Even if Iran decides to cooperate, it’s not clear that the Trump administration would trust its government to provide accurate information.
The governments of Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen all have other challenges; some are mired in civil wars while others are barely functioning states. And generally speaking, people from the six countries already have a very difficult time obtaining a U.S. visa, as American officials use a range of intelligence and other tools to examine their applications and vet them before granting them entry.
A great deal will depend on what standards U.S. officials choose to apply and how stringently and broadly they apply them. The revised order contains a number of provisions granting U.S. officials the ability to give waivers to individuals in unusual situations trying to reach the United States, and how often those waivers are used could also soften the blow.
But there are other elements in the executive order that could slow down the visa process, enough so that many people may consider it not worth trying to come to the United States. For one thing, the order requires the State Department to do more in-person interviews of foreigners seeking visas, meaning an extra hurdle for many visitors who in the past were not deemed security risks.
The order will have profound implications for a range of U.S. industries, including universities that rely on dollars from international students, hotels that count on foreign tourists and technology companies seeking talent abroad.
“The more onerous it becomes to come into the United States, the more Canada starts looking attractive, the more England starts looking attractive,” said Leon Fresco, a prominent immigration attorney.
One major question is how the new vetting standards — whatever they are — will apply to the 38 countries that fall under the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. That program allows people from those countries, many of which are in Europe, to visit the United States without having to obtain a visa.
Another question is how other countries will decide to treat Americans wishing to travel to their soil. Visa programs are, in theory, supposed to be reciprocal. So if the United States imposes new conditions for vetting, those other countries might do the same, making it harder for Americans to travel there.
Travel industry experts say there already is mounting evidence of a drop in international interest in visiting the United States following the issuing of the original executive order on Jan. 27.
The U.S. Travel Association on Monday released a statement that said “it doesn’t appear that the administration fully seized the opportunity to differentiate between the potential security risks targeted by the order and the legitimate business and leisure visitors from abroad who support 15.1 million American jobs.”
“Reputational fallout is a real thing,” Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of public affairs for the association, recently told POLITICO. “It really boils down to people having choices to make. Price and convenience and efficiency and how welcome you feel all factor into that.”
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