The “Travel Ban” and Refugee Policy

by Manu Smadja | In Immigration Assistance and Information, In The News | 10 February 2017 | Updated on: March 12th, 2021

In a nutshell:
President Trump’s executive order restricting visas / U.S. entry for nationals of seven countries was signed on January 27 and was stopped a week later. Though at the time of this article the restrictions have been removed and foreign visitors with appropriate documentation may again enter the U.S., legal back-and-forth between President Trump and the U.S. judicial branch may continue for months to come. In the meantime, we recommend that you remain cautious and informed, that you maintain a valid visa, and that you check with your international student advisor before traveling outside the U.S.

What was in place before: Obtaining a student visa, work visa, or finding refuge in the U.S. has always involved thorough processes. In the case of the refugee program for instance, applicants must be referred by the U.N., an embassy, or a designated NGO; they then go through the application process and an overseas interview, and are only then considered for refugee status. This process involves a strict prioritization and requires refugees to have escaped their country of origin prior to beginning these steps (otherwise, an approval from the U.S. president is required). The student or work visa processes are similarly elaborate and selective.

What happened:
On January 27, 2017, the White House issued the following executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist entry into the United States.”

In short, the order required:

  • No admission of refugees for 120 days
  • An indefinite ban on admitting Syrian refugees
  • A suspension of entry of 90 days (at a minimum) for nationals from seven countries, namely Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen
  • A suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program, thus requiring in-person interviews for all nonimmigrant visa applicants

Executive orders can be struck down or halted if they’re judged illegal and/or conflict with the Constitution. That’s what happened recently. The state of Washington challenged the presidential executive order, seeking a way to at least temporarily restrict its implementation across the U.S. On February 3, an order issued by a U.S. District Court in Washington state essentially overruled President Trump’s executive order. This resulted in the executive order being temporarily suspended. The White house appealed and asked for the suspension to be lifted immediately. On February 9, the White House’s appeal to immediately reinstate the ban was rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Final resolution of this issue is unlikely to happen for months. In the meantime, the “travel ban” for refugees and immigrants from the seven countries above is lifted, and those with valid visas in hand should be allowed to enter the U.S. again.

What it means for you:

  • If you’re from the seven countries above, have a valid visa, and are looking to come/return to the U.S., you should be able to do so, but we encourage you to check with an immigration lawyer and/or visa specialist at your school to make sure your documents are in order before attempting to enter the U.S.
  • For all holders of a valid visa currently in the U.S., we recommend that you remain cautious and stay well informed. We further recommend that you check with an immigration lawyer or with your international student advisor before exiting the U.S. for any reason

What to watch out for:
The executive order and its temporary shutdown started a legal battle that could go all the way to the Supreme Court and continue for months. It’ll be important to stay abreast of all future developments. Additionally, the discussion over legal and illegal immigration, refugees, OPT, and student or work visas is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

As always, we hope to support you not only as a resource for education financing but also as a useful source of information on these policy issues. Our entire team is made up of immigrants and these issues touch us personally. More than ever, MPOWER Financing is committed to removing financial barriers to education for students coming from all over the globe, and to help you become the next STEM, business, law, education, policy, or health leaders of the U.S. and the world at large.

Yours truly,


March 12, 2017 update: on March 6, 2017 the white house issued a new executive order that puts in place a 90-day travel ban for citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The prior executive order (discussed earlier) is revoked/replaced by this new order.

The executive order also calls for:

  • A cap on the number of refugees permitted in 2017 (50,000)
  • Tighter visa application requirements and controls, including a suspension of the visa interview waiver program. This will apply particularly strongly to Iraqi citizens

Note that the new travel ban does not apply to travelers from these 6 countries who already had a visa or a green card, to those traveling on a diplomatic visa (e.g., C2 and G visas), or to those granted asylum. Exceptions can also be made on a case-by-case basis for students or workers who previously had a U.S. visa, left the country, and are now returning to the U.S. to continue their studies or employment.

Author: View all post by Manu Smadja

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