On Friday January 27, 2017, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Order that contained sweeping changes to processing arrivals at our nation's airports and land borders of non-immigrants with a variety of work and travel visas, immigrants, lawful permanent residents, and refugees. Although styled as imposing temporary measures, it is having a dramatic impact on thousands of individuals in the U.S. and abroad, and contains language that suggests long-lasting changes to the visa application process abroad and the adjudication of immigration-related applications within the U.S. This news release summarizes the Executive Order, the litigation that has followed, and the Order's effect on individuals and employers in the coming weeks.
What is in the Executive Order?
- Major items in the Executive Order include a temporary suspension of visa issuance abroad and entry into the U.S. for individuals from 7 countries, a temporary suspension of admission of all refugees, an indefinite suspension of refugees from Syria, and suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program for all non-immigrant visa renewals (by citizens of all countries).
- The Order covers "immigrants and non-immigrants" and includes anyone with a valid visa (including professional work visas, student visas, and tourist visas) and returning lawful permanent residents. The Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") later released a statement indicating the entry of lawful permanent residents would be considered in "the national interest" but it did not assure their entry. Rather, the statement included the caveat "absent derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations."
- Section 5 of Order directs the Secretary of State to suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program ("USRAP") for 120 days, and specifically states that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is suspended indefinitely, with exceptions for 1) if admitting the individual would be in the national interest; 2) if the person seeking admission is from a religious minority facing religious persecution; 3) to conform to international agreement; or 4) if the person is in transit and there would be undue hardship if he/she were denied admission to the U.S.
- Section 8 of the Order requires the Secretary of State to immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program ("VIWP"), a worldwide program which allows U.S. consuls to waive in-person visa interviews for nationals of any country who have been recently vetted for security clearances and who seek a visa renewal.
What is the status of litigation regarding the Executive Order?
- Attorneys with the American Immigration Lawyers Association ("AILA") and the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") have filed lawsuits on behalf of affected individuals in federal district courts in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington state. Judges in those federal courts have issued Temporary Restraining Orders ("TROs") based on plaintiffs' likelihood of success on Constitutional grounds.
- New York's TRO provides a nationwide stay of removal preventing deportation for individuals with valid visas and approved refugee applications affected by the Executive Order.
- Massachusetts' TRO has barred federal officials from detaining or removing anyone affected by the Executive Order for 7 days (until February 4), and further instructs Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") to notify international airlines that passengers flying into Boston's Logan Airport will not be subject to the Executive Order. Airlines had been refusing to board affected individuals.
- Virginia's TRO specifically orders federal officials to allow lawyers access to "all legal permanent residents detained in Dulles International Airport."
- Washington state's TRO bars federal officials from deporting two unnamed individuals in the U.S.
- Judges in the federal district courts in these jurisdictions will hold hearings this week on these pending suits to determine whether to extend, modify or cancel the TROs. The outcomes are difficult to predict. If the judges are persuaded on the merits of the case, it is possible the TROs may be converted into preliminary injunctions while awaiting further judicial review, effectively stopping the Executive Order or parts of it from taking effect until the matter can be argued and decided by the court. Alternatively, attorneys for the Trump Administration may succeed in their argument that the President's broad discretion on matters of national security permits the actions contained in the Order. If a judge permits the TROs to expire without issuing a preliminary injunction, the Executive Order would be in effect until either a successful appeal by the immigrants to a higher court or possibly an ultimate decision by the Supreme Court.
- In addition, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced she is filing a lawsuit today to challenge the Executive Order as unconstitutional.
What are the consequences of this Executive Order on individuals and employers?
- Foreign nationals from one of the seven countries affected by this Executive Order -- either lawful permanent residents or holders of valid visas -- should not travel. There is no guarantee these individuals will be permitted back into the U.S. after travel abroad. This could have disastrous consequences for individuals, their families, and their employers, as they risk being unable to re-enter the U.S. for at least 90 days, if not longer based on how quickly they might be able to obtain a new visa (if needed).
- For those foreign nationals affected by this Executive Order who are currently outside the U.S., they should consider returning to the U.S. immediately via a direct flight into Boston's Logan Airport if possible before February 4 when the TRO expires.
- If foreign nationals are asked to relinquish U.S. permanent residence, the returning lawful permanent residents should be aware they have a right to request a hearing before an immigration judge. Green card holders should not sign a Form I-407 to relinquish their residence if they desire a hearing.
- Credible reports indicate that applications by nationals from these seven countries for immigration benefits with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") such as Adjustment of Status, Petitions for Non-Immigrant Workers, Applications for Employment Authorization, etc. have been suspended. Currently, issuance of visas abroad for these foreign nationals is also suspended, and sources indicate USCIS will accept but not complete final adjudication until further notice of applications filed by or on behalf of foreign nationals from those seven countries.
- Employers should be aware of both the risk for delays with adjudication of applications and the risk travel presents for any employee needing to apply for a visa abroad. The suspension of Visa Interview Waiver Program will affect students and professional visa holders across the globe, as appointments for visa renewals in all countries will likely experience increased wait times since all visas applicants are now required to attend an in-person visa interview. There is also a greater likelihood of administrative processing (security) delays, given the additional information the Department of State will be seeking as contemplated by the Executive Order.
- In addition, the broad language in Section 3 of the Order states that the Secretary of DHS and the Secretary of State shall conduct a review to determine the information needed from any country to adjudicate any visa, admission or other benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA"), including adjudications. This language suggests a full revisiting of the current processing procedures, which may also result in delays.
We will bring you further updates on this and other immigration-related news in our February newsletter next week.