WASHINGTON, June 29, (Agencies): After months of wrangling, tighter restrictions on travel to the US from six mostly Muslim nations take effect Thursday evening after the Supreme Court gave its go-ahead for a limited version of President Donald Trump’s plans for a ban. Visa applicants from the six countries — and all refugees — will need to show close family or business ties to the United States.
Visas that have already been approved will not be revoked, and that should help avert the kind of chaos at airports around the world that surrounded an initial travel ban ordered shortly after Trump took office. In that case, some travelers with previously approved visas were kept off flights or barred entry on arrival in the US. There were no major problems reported in the first hours after the new guidelines were issued.
The Middle East’s biggest airline said its flights to the United States were operating normally. However, Dubai-based Emirates reminded passengers that they “must possess the appropriate travel documents, including a valid US entry visa, in order to travel.” The new instructions issued by the State Department will affect visa applicants from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen. An applicant must prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the United States to be eligible. The same requirement, with some exceptions, holds for would-be refugees from all nations who are still awaiting approval.
Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sistersin- law, fiancees or other extended family members are not considered to be close relations, according to the guidelines that were issued in a cable sent to all US embassies and consulates late on Wednesday.
The new rules take effect at 8:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday (0000GMT on Friday), according to the cable, which was obtained by The Associated Press. As far as business or professional links are concerned, the State Department said, a legitimate relationship must be “formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course rather than for the purpose of evading” the ban.
Journalists, students, workers or lecturers who have valid invitations or employment contracts in the US would be exempt from the ban. The exemption does not apply to those who seek a relationship with an American business or educational institution purely for the purpose of avoiding the rules. A hotel reservation or car rental contract, even if pre-paid, would also not count. Consular officers may grant other exemptions to applicants from the six nations if they have “previously established significant contacts with the United States;” ‘’significant business or professional obligations” in the US; if they are infants, adopted children or in need of urgent medical care; if they are traveling for business with a recognized international organization or the US government or if they are legal residents of Canada who apply for visas in Canada, according to the cable.
On Monday, the Supreme Court partially lifted lower court injunctions against Trump’s executive order that had temporarily banned visas for citizens of the six countries. The justices’ ruling exempted applicants from the ban if they could prove a “bonafide relationship” with a US person or entity, but the court offered only broad guidelines — suggesting they would include a relative, job offer or invitation to lecture in the US — as to how that should be defined.
The new guidance rules remain in place at least until the Supreme Court hears arguments on the case in the fall and then issues a final ruling. Shortly after taking office, Trump ordered the refugee ban and a travel ban affecting the six countries, plus Iraq. He said it was needed to protect the US from terrorists, but opponents said it was unfairly harsh and was intended to meet his campaign promise to keep Muslims out of the United States. After a federal judge struck down the bans, Trump signed a revised order intended to overcome legal hurdles. That was also struck down by lower courts, but the Supreme Court’s action partially reinstated it.
The new rules will also affect would-be immigrants from the six countries who win visas in the government’s diversity lottery — a program that randomly awards 50,000 green cards annually to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. They will also have to prove they have a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the US or that they are eligible for another waiver. If they can’t they face being banned for at least 90 days. That may be a difficult hurdle, as many visa lottery winners don’t have relatives in the US or jobs in advance of arriving in the country. Generally, winners in the diversity lottery only need prove they were born in an eligible county and have completed high school or have at least two years of work experience in an occupation that requires at least two other years of training or experience.
In a related development, the United States on Wednesday unveiled enhanced security measures for flights to the country designed to prevent expanding an in-cabin ban on laptops, but an airline trade group said the changes might cause more disruptions. The measures, which European and US officials said would begin taking effect within three weeks, could require additional time to screen passengers and personal electronic devices for possible explosives.
The measures would affect 325,000 airline passengers on about 2,000 commercial flights arriving daily in the United States, on 180 airlines from 280 airports in 105 countries. The United States in March banned laptops on flights to the United States originating at 10 airports in eight countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey, to address fears that bombs could be concealed in electronic devices taken aboard aircraft.
Britain quickly followed suit with a similar set of restrictions. The decision not to impose new laptop restrictions eases US and European airlines’ concern that expanding the ban to Europe or other locations could cause major logistical problems and deter travel. “Inaction is not an option,” US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a news briefing, adding that he believed airlines would comply with the new screening. But he said the measures were not the last step to tighten security.
US carriers said they would follow the new security directive, but industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A), criticized Homeland Security for not working more closely with them on the new policies. “The development of the security directive should have been subject to a greater degree of collaboration and coordination to avoid the significant operational disruptions and unnecessarily frustrating consequences for the traveling public that appear likely to happen,” A4A Chief Executive Nicholas E. Calio said in a statement. Kelly had been saying since April he thought an expansion of the laptop ban was “likely.” He said in late May the government could potentially expand the ban worldwide. Homeland Security officials told reporters they expected more than 99 percent of airlines would comply, a move that would effectively end the controversial electronics ban.