Foreigners trapped in US by visa policy

NEW YORK • Much of the criticism of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump this week has focused on foreigners prevented from entering the United States, but a court filing in the legal battle over the travel ban reveals a broader effect.

The residency status of tens of thousands of immigrants - from asylum seekers to students to technology workers - already living in the US is imperilled.

Amid a storm of protest, Mr Trump on Thursday stuck by the ban as essential to the safety of the nation, saying that in the "coming days, we will develop a system to help ensure those admitted into our country fully embrace our values of religious and personal liberty".

Now, the internal auditor of the Department of Homeland Security has entered the fray. Its inspector- general has announced it would review how the agency carried out the executive order, which suspended the entry of all refugees for 120 days and blocked for 90 days citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The State Department went even further: It revoked the visas of all nationals from those countries without notifying them, even those who are legally studying, working and living in the US. Only a case-by-case exemption deemed in the national interest "on the basis of a determination made by the secretaries of state and homeland security" would reinstate the visas, it said.

But on Thursday, the Trump administration amended its visa ban to allow entry by families of Iraqi interpreters who served the US government and military forces deployed in the country.

For now, however, the loss of visas means that anyone from the affected countries who leaves the US - even for funerals or family health emergencies - would be unable to return without getting a new visa, which is a lengthy process.

It is unclear why the State Department policy was not announced, which means people have unwittingly jeopardised their homes and livelihoods in the US by leaving with no clear means to return.

Unlike the refugee ban, which was announced with much fanfare, the cancelled visas came to light only as a result of court filings by government lawyers defending the ban on travellers from the seven countries against litigation.

Adding to the concern, several green card holders said they have received notification that their Global Entry Trusted Traveller Network status - which allows approved, low-risk travellers expedited clearance into the US when they arrive - had been revoked.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2017, with the headline 'Foreigners trapped in US by visa policy'. Print Edition | Subscribe