Why is the Trump administration expanding its travel ban?

With six new countries added to the list, the so-called ‘Muslim ban’ will now affect hundreds of millions of people

Andrew Naughtie
Thursday 20 February 2020 14:07 GMT
Trump travel ban to include six more countries

Starting on 21 February, the Trump administration is extending its so-called “travel ban” to cover six new countries: Nigeria, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar.

The expansion restricts hundreds of millions more people from immigrating to the US or obtaining certain kinds of visas.

Here’s a guide to what the expansion means for the countries and people affected – and some of its wider implications.

What does the overall ban do?

The travel ban in place since 2018 restricts the issuance of immigrant and non-immigrant visas to applicants from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, along with Venezuela and North Korea.

Sudan – now on the extended list – was originally included and then removed. Chad was briefly on the list too, but was removed after it improved security measures.

The ban went through three iterations before being upheld by the Supreme Court in June 2018. Justices dissenting from the judgment said it “erodes the foundational principles of religious tolerance that the court elsewhere has so emphatically protected”.

What countries does the extended ban include, and why?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has now added Nigeria, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar to its list of travel-restricted countries.

In its original announcement, the department said the move is “the product of a comprehensive and systematic global assessment conducted by the Department of Homeland Security and the interagency”.

Explaining the basis for the new list, DHS said: “These restrictions are tailored to country-specific deficiencies, as well as travel-related risk to the homeland.

“These restrictions do not reflect animus or bias against any particular country, region, ethnicity, race, or religion.”

That last caveat is a defence against accusations that the overall ban deliberately targets Muslims – accusations that in turn stem from a campaign promise Trump made in 2015, when he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on”.

New expansion restricts hundreds of millions more people from immigrating to the US or obtaining certain kinds of visas (Statista)

What’s different from the original ban?

The original ban does not apply evenly to all seven countries. The inclusion of North Korea is all but meaningless since that country’s government heavily restricts travel to the US anyway, while the ban on Venezuela only extends to a small number of people from the country’s power elite.

The other five countries, however, are Muslim-majority – and almost all their citizens are effectively barred from travelling to the US except under certain circumstances. And while people from the affected countries can apply for “waivers” from the policy’s restrictions, they still need to apply for visas even if they are exempted.

The new list’s scope, however, is more limited.

On Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Nigeria, the administration is restricting the issuance of immigrant visas. Its rationale is that these countries are “deficient” in sharing information about terrorists and criminals and have failed or refused to improve their security measures.

That means information that a visa applicant is a “threat” will probably not be available at the time they apply. And because “individuals who have entered the US on immigrant visas are challenging to remove”, DHS takes the view that restricting these visas is the only safe cause of action.

Sudan and Tanzania, meanwhile, have apparently performed better against the administration’s security criteria. On that basis, the administration has decided to impose restrictions on Diversity Visas – also known as the “green card lottery” – which DHS describes as “a less serious sanction” given “the significantly fewer number of aliens affected”.

Who is and isn’t affected?

The DHS’s announcement made clear that the extended ban’s remit is limited only to those who apply for the visas in question. People abroad who already have a valid visa but have not yet entered the US can still come to the US, and legally documented residents already in the US can still reside there.

Many other visitors, said the department, will also be unaffected: “Family members can still visit their loved ones, businesses can still employ qualified candidates, and other visits can take place on a temporary basis with a non-immigrant visa.”

The statement also specified that travellers already en route to the US when the ban came into force would not be affected.

How can countries get off the list?

DHS stressed that it’s possible for a country to get the ban lifted: “The restrictions imposed by the president reflect our greater confidence that these countries can make meaningful improvements in a reasonable period of time. If the restricted countries do, the president may remove travel restrictions at any time.”

There is a precedent for this. Chad was added to the original ban’s list in 2017, but was removed the following spring after apparently improving its information-sharing practices and making its passports more secure.

How has the ban been received?

The expansion of the ban has been met with outrage from many quarters. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted that: “My first executive orders will be to reverse every single thing President Trump has done to demonise and harm immigrants, including his racist and disgusting Muslim ban”.

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, passed the “No Ban Act”, which would repeal the ban altogether and limit the president’s ability to impose future restrictions based on religion. Given the partisan makeup of Congress, it is not expected to make it into law.

Meanwhile, because the expanded list includes several African countries – including the continent’s most populous, Nigeria – an estimated 25 per cent of all African residents are now affected by the policy, leading some to call it the “Africa ban”. An account in the New York Times describes how Nigerians living in the US are worried that the ban will break family ties and hurt both countries.

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