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30th Jan 2017

Bulletin: US announces travel ban for Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen

Late Friday afternoon, newly elected US President Donald Trump signed an executive order effectively blocking entry to the United States for the next 90 days for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries. The countries included in the order are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The full text of the executive order has been released by the White House. While there had been advance reports that the new US administration was contemplating such a move, the signing of the order late last week still came as a surprise to many, including affected US government agencies and front-line staff, none of which had received any advance notice or consultation around the implementation of the order. The move affects more than 17,000 students from the seven countries that are currently enrolled with US institutions, 71% of which (or 12,269 students) are from Iran. Another 2,300 scholars from the seven affected countries are currently in the US as well - and again, a strong majority of these professors and researchers (82%) are from Iran. While the full implications of the executive order are not yet clear, here is what we know so far:

  • It prevents citizens from the affected countries, with the exception of those travelling on diplomatic credentials, from receiving a visa to enter the US.
  • It requires US officials to put in place strengthened screening processes for visitors to the US, including foreign students. This "uniform screening standard and procedure" is expected to include such measures as "in-person interviews; a database of identity documents proffered by applicants to ensure that duplicate documents are not used by multiple applicants; amended application forms that include questions aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent; a mechanism to ensure that the applicant is who the applicant claims to be; a process to evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society and the applicant’s ability to make contributions to the national interest; and a mechanism to assess whether or not the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States."

Over the weekend, US educators were quick to reassure foreign students and scholars that they can continue their studies uninterrupted. However, students are also being advised not to leave the US during the 90-day travel ban. Nor will family or friends from abroad be able to visit students in the US while the ban is in effect. Aside from those specific points, there has been considerable confusion and protest in the wake of the executive order. Reports indicate it has been inconsistently applied by travel operators, airport officials, and border control staff in these early days of implementation. And it is unclear what additional screening processes will be put in place following the travel ban, or how any such new provisions will affect new students, current students, foreign scholars, and US host institutions. We will have a more on this story in the coming days, particularly its longer-term implications for US educators and foreign students in the United States.

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