Monthly Archives: February 2017

Potential Solutions for Visa Refusal or Visa Denial

Some visa refusals and visa denials are proper, such as when you fail to provide the requested documents to prove visa eligibility or when you are inadmissible to the U.S. due to past actions. But when the decision is improper or can be overcome, you may take remedial action if you still want to come to the U.S.

A consular officer’s decision to deny or issue a visa is not subject to judicial review, based on the doctrine of consular non-reviewability. Because consular officers have so much discretion in issuing visa decisions, it’s especially important to address complications from the get-go.

When you’re faced with a visa refusal or denial, your potential solutions include:

1. Refiling for the Nonimmigrant Visa in Section 214(b) Situations

There is no waiver to overcome the INA 214(b) ground of ineligibility (failure to overcome presumption of immigrant intent) in nonimmigrant visa cases. But the finding is not permanent, which means you may later establish nonimmigrant intent by showing a considerable change in circumstances.

When your nonimmigrant visa (e.g. B-1/B-2 visitor visa or F-1/M-1 student visa) is denied due to failure to overcome the presumption of immigrant intent, you will need to reapply for the visa and, at the visa interview, present new, persuasive evidence of strong ties to your home country.

To avoid multiple visa refusals under section 214(b), you must build strong family roots, property ownership, employment ties, and other connections to your country that you cannot abandon and will cause you to depart the U.S. before your authorized stay expires.

In 214(b) visa refusal cases, you should not reapply for the B-1/B-2 visa, for example, until your personal, professional, and financial circumstances have changed significantly. Owning a business, investing in property, having a well-paid, steady job, or starting a family in your country are positive factors.

2. Requesting an Advisory Opinion (Administrative Review)

When your visa denial is based on questions of law, you may request an Advisory Opinion from the Department of State’s Visa Office in Washington D.C. The Visa Office will not review claims that the consular officer made a mistake of fact.

The Visa Office has a dedicated email channel, LegalNet, for you and/or your attorney to request a case-specific response on the interpretation or application of immigration law.

An example is when a person is denied an H-1B or L-1 visa, which allows dual intent, under section 214(b) (failure to overcome presumption of immigrant intent). Another example is when a visa applicant is charged with 212(a)(6)(C)(i)(fraud or willful misrepresentation of material fact to gain immigration benefit), even when there was no providing false testimony or fabricated documents or the misrepresentation was not material and did not affect visa eligibility.

Within seven (7) business days of receiving a proper inquiry, LegalNet will provide notice that the inquiry has been received and is being processed. The complexity of the case and availability of required information affects the time frame for a substantive responses.

LegalNet will provide substantive responses only to the following types of inquiries:

  • Legal questions about a specific case when the applicant or representative has attempted to contact the consular post at least twice without receiving a final response, and where 30 days have passed since the second inquiry (unless action is required sooner to avert significant harm to the applicant)
  • Legal questions about a specific case in which the applicant or representative has received a final response from the consular post, but believes it to be wrong as a matter of law
  • Legal questions about specific cases involving T visas, U visas, Diversity visas, or adoption visas, and
  • Legal questions about specific cases involving the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

The substantive response will be a summary of the advisory opinion forwarded to the consulate. Advisory opinions on applications or interpretations of law are binding on consular officers, but consular officers have sole authority to apply the law to the facts.

3. Filing a Motion to Reconsider and Rescind a Section 212(a) Inadmissibility Determination

Although there is no appeal process for a visa denial based on INA section 212(a) inadmissibility grounds, the U.S. Consulate or Embassy may reconsider its decision based on new evidence or legal arguments establishing you actually qualify for the visa.

In immigrant visa cases, the federal regulations under 22 CFR 42.81 allow  you to submit a motion to reconsider within one year of the visa denial to the consulate. No new application or filing fee is required when a timely motion is filed. Motions to reconsider must include relevant documentary evidence and legal claims to overcome the inadmissibility ground.

In nonimmigrant visa cases (except section 221(g) refusals), the only way to have your case reconsidered is to submit a new visa application and, at the visa interview, present a request to reconsider the inadmissibility finding.

It’s appropriate to file a motion to reconsider when the inadmissibility finding is based on a consular officer’s misinterpretation of the facts or law. But when the inadmissibility determination originates from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), e.g. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), the Consulate will generally instruct you to contact those agencies.

4. Applying for a Waiver of Inadmissibility 

When you are truly inadmissible or you are unable to get the erroneous inadmissibility charge vacated by the Consulate, you may apply for a waiver. A waiver grant is not a travel document to enter the U.S. Rather, it allows – but does not guarantee – admission on a Canadian passport (if you are a Canadian citizen) or a visa grant by the Consulate when you are inadmissible to the U.S.

Nonimmigrant waiver 

For nonimmigrant visa applicants, the 212(d)(3) waiver excuses almost all grounds of inadmissibility listed in section 212(a). This includes health-related grounds, criminal offenses, prostitution, smuggling, fraud or willful misrepresentation of material fact to gain immigration benefits, false claims to U.S. citizenship to gain benefits under federal, state or immigration law, and unlawful presence in the U.S. The only inadmissibility grounds that cannot be excused by the 212(d)(3) waiver involve security and related issues, foreign policy considerations, and participation in Nazi persecutions.

In Matter of Hranka, the Board of Immigration Appeals listed three factors that must be considered in deciding whether to grant or deny the waiver. These factors are also described in the Foreign Affairs Manual, which sets forth policies for the Department of State. They are:

  • The risk of harm to society if the applicant is admitted to the U.S.
  • The seriousness of the applicant’s prior immigration law or criminal law violations, which caused the inadmissibility.
  • The importance of the applicant’s reasons for seeking to enter the U.S.

The consular officer must recommend your nonimmigrant waiver request for approval before it is forwarded to the U.S. Customs & Border Protection for a final decision.

Immigrant waiver

For immigrant visa applicants, there are waivers for certain inadmissibility grounds, including fraud or willful misrepresentation, some criminal offenses, and unlawful presence.

You will need to determine whether a waiver is available for the specific section of law that makes you inadmissible. Even when a waiver is available, only certain immigrant visa applicants may qualify for it.

You qualify for the I-601 waiver [INA§ 212(i) waiver] of the lifetime fraud/willful misrepresentation bar under section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) if you are one of the following:

1. An intended immigrant who is the spouse, son or daughter of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (or the fiance(e) of a U.S. citizen K-visa petitioner) who will suffer extreme hardship if you are not admitted to the U.S. [NOTE: Being a parent of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident child does not make you eligible for the §212(i) waiver.]


2. A VAWA self-petitioner who will suffer extreme hardship or whose U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or qualified alien parent or child will suffer extreme hardship if you are not admitted to the U.S.

You qualify for the I-601 [INA§ 212(a)(9)(B)(v)] waiver of the 3/10 year unlawful presence bar if you are the spouse or son or daughter of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (or the fiance(e) of a U.S. citizen K-visa petitioner) who will suffer extreme hardship if you are not admitted to the U.S. [NOTE: Being a parent of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident child does not make you eligible for the unlawful presence waiver.

You qualify for the I-601 [INA § 212(h)] waiver of crime-related inadmissibility grounds if you are one of the following:

1. An immigrant who is the spouse, parent, son or daughter of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or K visa petitioner, who will suffer extreme hardship if you are not admitted to the U.S.

2. A self-petitioning abused spouse or child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

3. Inadmissible only under prostitution grounds [sections 212(D)(i) or (D)(ii) of the INA]; you have been rehabilitated; and your admission is not contrary to the national welfare, safety, or security to the United States.

4. Inadmissible due to certain criminal activities (e.g. a crime involving moral turpitude; single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana) that occurred more than 15 years before the date of application for a visa, admission, or adjustment of status; you have been rehabilitated; and your admission is not contrary to the national welfare, safety, or security of the United States.

The I-601 immigrant waiver under section 212(h) of the INA excuses  you from the following criminal grounds:

1. Crimes involving moral turpitude

2. One controlled substance violation involving simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana (or an equivalent amount of hashish)

3. Two or more criminal convictions (other than purely political ones) with an aggregate sentence imposed of at least five years

4. Prostitution

5. Unlawful commercialized vice, whether or not related to prostitution

6. Certain aliens involved in serious crimes who have asserted immunity from prosecution

The immigrant waiver is not available for all crime-related grounds of inadmissibility. In particular, persons charged with the following are not eligible for the waiver:

1. 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(II)[Controlled Substance Violation] – except when it relates to a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana (or hashish); or

2. 212(a)(2)(C)[Controlled Substance Traffickers]

3. 212(a)(2)(G)[Foreign government officials who committed particularly severe violations of religious freedom]

4. 212(a)(2)(H)[Significant traffickers in persons/human traffickers]

5. 212(a)(2)(I)[Money laundering]

Waiver for prior removal orders (or certain immigration violations)

Advance permission to reapply for admission into the United States is needed when you are inadmissible under sections 212(a)(9)(A)(i)(e.g. expedited removal order) and (ii) (removal order by an Immigration Judge), as well as sections 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I) (illegal re-entry after accruing more than one year of unlawful presence) and (II)(illegal re-entry following removal order).

When any of these inadmissibility bars apply, you need an I-212 waiver to be readmitted to the U.S. or to obtain a visa as an immigrant or nonimmigrant. For more information on these inadmissibility grounds, read our article, When do you need an I-212 Waiver (and how do you get it)?

The I-212 waiver request may be filed at any time, in conjunction with a visa application, when sections 212(a)(9)(A)(i) and (ii) apply. But when sections 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I) and (II) apply and you are an immigrant visa applicant, you must be outside the U.S. and wait ten years abroad before filing  the Form I-212.  [Note: As an alternative, if you are a nonimmigrant visa applicant, you may seek a section 212(d)(3) nonimmigrant waiver, at any time, if you are inadmissible under section 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I), i.e. unlawful presence of more than one year, in the aggregate, and subsequent reentry without admission or parole.]

A completed and signed Form I-212,  Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States after Deportation or Removal, must be submitted – except in few situations, such as when filing for a nonimmigrant visa at certain U.S. consulates. The Form I-212 filing fee and sometimes a biometrics fee are required.

Consult an immigration attorney with expertise in visa refusals or denials

When your visa is refused or denied, and you still wish to come to the U.S., you need to contact an immigration attorney to evaluate your visa eligibility, verify whether the consulate has valid grounds to deny the visa, and discuss or pursue possible remedies.

For more information, read our related article, Common Reasons for Visa Refusal or Visa Denial.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


Photo by: Anne Worner

Common Reasons for Visa Refusal or Visa Denial

A visa refusal or denial brings disappointment, frustration, and confusion over what to do next to enter the U.S. lawfully.

The U.S. Embassies and Consulates ultimately decide whether to grant you a nonimmigrant visa (e.g. B-1/B-2 visitor, F-1 student, H-1B temporary worker) or immigrant visa (e.g. family-based or employment-based) for admission to the United States. Proving you qualify for a visa is rarely easy.

Before you apply for a visa, it’s important to know the common reasons for a refusal or denial. They stem from the Immigration & Nationality Act, including sections 221(g)(lack of information or documents to show visa eligibility), 214(b)(failure to overcome presumption of immigrant intent in nonimmigrant visa cases) and 212(a)(inadmissibility grounds).

Soft refusal

1. Section 221(g) – Incomplete Application or Supporting Documentation

A visa refusal under section 221(g) of the INA means you did not present all the necessary information or documents for the consular officer to determine your visa eligibility. This is a soft refusal because you get the opportunity to correct the problem before a final decision is made.

In a 221(g) notice, you will be instructed on what additional evidence is needed and how to submit it. Examples include financial documents, affidavits of support, employment letter, and criminal records. If you do not submit the requested documents within one year, you will need to reapply for the visa and pay a new application fee.

You may also be informed that the Consulate will conduct further administrative processing of your application (e.g. security checks or further investigation by another agency such as USCIS) before it instructs you on next steps or issues a decision.  This can be triggered by database hits, fraud prevention unit investigations, alerts lists, and administrative errors.

Most administrative processing is resolved within 60 days of the visa interview, but the timing varies based on individual circumstances. For example, if the case is forwarded to USCIS or another agency for further review, this could take several months to complete.

When the documents submitted are not enough to overcome the 221(g) refusal or administrative processing reveals negative information that makes you inadmissible, your visa request will be denied.

Hard denial

2. Section 214(b) – Visa Qualifications and Immigrant Intent

Under section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a nonimmigrant is presumed to have immigrant intent, i.e. intent to remain permanently, rather than temporarily, in the United States. Nonimmigrant visa applicants (except for H-1B and L-1s) have the burden to overcome this presumption and prove they have no immigrant intent.

Section 214(b) denials apply only to nonimmigrant visa categories. For instance, B-1/B-2 visitor visa applicants must show they have strong ties to their home country, which they cannot abandon, and intend to visit the U.S. temporarily for business or pleasure. F-1 student visa applicants must further show they are qualified to pursue a full course of study, have the financial resources to pay tuition and living expenses, and intend to return to their country after completing their studies.

A 214(b) denial notice will state you have not demonstrated strong ties to your home country to overcome the presumption of immigrant intent and therefore do not meet the standards for a visa grant. The real, underlying reason, however, may be different.

Do you fit the profile of a person who tends to work in the U.S. without authorization or will likely overstay? Did you request a change of status from B-2 to F-1 during a previous trip to the U.S.? Have you ever entered the Diversity Visa lottery or had an I-130 immigrant petition filed on your behalf? Did you seem nervous during the visa interview? Did you give birth in the U.S. during a temporary visit? Do you make regular visits to the U.S. and stay for extended periods each time?

A consular officer’s doubts about your true intentions could lead to a 214(b) visa denial. It is often used as catch-all provision even when there is no valid reason to deny your visa application.

3. Section 212(a) – Inadmissibility Grounds

Section 212(a) of the INA lists the various grounds on which you are inadmissible to the U.S. (i.e. barred from entering the U.S. or from obtaining a visa).

Section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) of the INA states that you are permanently inadmissible if you, by fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact, seek to procure (or have sought to procure or have procured) a visa, other documentation, or admission into the U.S. or other immigration benefit.

Section 212(a)(6)(C)(ii) of the INA inflicts a permanent bar against you when it is determined that you made a false claim to U.S. citizenship to gain a benefit under U.S. immigration law, federal law or state law.

Section 212(a)(2) of the INA lists crime-related grounds that permanently bar you from entering the U.S. They include crimes involving moral turpitude (that do not qualify for the petty offense or youthful offender exception), controlled substance violations, multiple criminal convictions, and controlled substance trafficking (i.e. U.S. consular officer or U.S. government knows or has reason to believe you are a controlled substance trafficker).

Section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) of the INA states the 3 year bar to re-entry applies if you were unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days, but less than one year, and then depart the U.S. The U.S. government adds up all the days you were unlawfully present in the U.S. in a single ongoing period or stay (i.e. continuous period of unlawful presence).

Section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) of the INA states the 10 year bar to re-entry applies if you were unlawfully present in the U.S. for one year or more, and then depart the U.S. The U.S. government adds up all the days you were unlawfully present in the U.S., even if they were from different periods or stays (i.e. the aggregate period of unlawful presence).

Section 212(a)(9)(A)(i) of the INA states you have a five-year bar to reentry from the date of your removal if:

  • You were removed upon arrival in the U.S., i.e. ordered removed in an expedited removal proceeding by U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) at a U.S. port of entry.
  • You were placed in removal proceedings upon arrival in the U.S. and then ordered removed by an immigration judge as an arriving alien.

Section 212(a)(9)(A)(ii) of the INA states you have a 10-year bar to reentry from the date of your removal if:

  • You were ordered removed, other than as an arriving alien, including by an immigration judge in removal proceedings.
  • You failed to timely depart the U.S. under an order of voluntary departure issued by an immigration judge, causing the voluntary departure to be converted to a removal order.
  • You departed the U.S. willingly, but before removal proceedings were concluded.
  • You left the U.S. while a removal order was outstanding.

Section 212(a)(9)(A)(ii) of the INA states you have a 20-year bar to reentry from the date of your removal if you were ordered removed from the U.S. more than once, whether as an arriving alien or not. It permanently bars you from reentry from the date of your removal if you were convicted of an aggravated felony.

Section 212(a)(9)(C) of the INA states you are permanently barred if you reentered or attempted to reenter the U.S. illegally after you accrued more than one year of unlawful presence in the U.S. and left, or after you were ordered removed from the U.S. The permanent bar, due to illegal entry or attempted illegal entry, applies only if you accrued the (1+ year) unlawful presence or were ordered removed on or after April 1, 1997, or entered or attempt to reenter the U.S. unlawfully on or after April 1, 1997.

Notification of Visa Refusal or Denial

When a consular officer refuses or denies your visa request, you will be informed orally and given a written notice with boxes checked off from a boilerplate list of statutory law.

In both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa cases, the officer must provide timely, written notice of:

  • The provision(s) of law on which the refusal is based
  • Any waiver of inadmissibility available (when  212(a) ineligibility grounds apply)

In immigrant visa cases, the written notice should include the factual basis for the refusal (unless such information is classified) ). The consular officer should refer to pertinent written or oral statements of the applicant, a conviction, medical report, false document, previous refusal, or the like, as the basis of the refusal.  The officer is also instructed to explain the law simply and clearly.

In Kerry v. Din, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its June 15, 2015 decision stating consular officers need not provide the factual basis for an immigrant visa denial when terrorism or national security concerns are involved. In that case, a foreign national spouse was denied her immigrant visa based on an unexplained allegation that her Afghani, U.S. citizen husband (the I-130 petitioner) supported terrorism. The court ruled that in these circumstances, a consular officer may simply cite to the statutory law without providing specific reasons for the visa denial.

In nonimmigrant visa cases, the written notice rarely informs you of the specific facts on which the consular office relied to made the decision. Usually, it will only cite to the statute (law) under which your visa was denied. Therefore, it helps to listen closely to the consular officer’s oral notice.

Consult an immigration attorney with expertise in visa refusals and denials

To prevent or overcome a visa denial, you should seek guidance from an immigration attorney who deals with consular processing. A skilled attorney can evaluate your case to verify your visa eligibility, help you respond to a request for more documents, challenge erroneous inadmissibility findings, and file for any necessary and available waivers.

For more information, read our related article, Potential Solutions for Visa Refusal or Visa Denial.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


Photo by: Chris Rimmer

Grant of Motion to Vacate Inadmissibility (Misrepresentation) Finding + Issuance of F-1 Student Visa = A True Success Story

On February 13, 2017, the U.S. Embassy granted my client’s Motion to Reconsider and Rescind Inadmissibility Determination Under INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i) (willful misrepresentation of material fact to gain immigration benefit) and issued his F-1 student visa. He may now pursue his studies in the United States, starting in fall 2017, after he was previously denied the visa two and a half years ago for misrepresenting information in his application.

The U.S. Embassy approved the motion and F-1 visa request within 3 weeks of when my client appeared for his visa interview and asked for a rescission of the inadmissibility finding.

Prior to the visa interview, I guided him in gathering documentary evidence and preparing his affidavit (written testimony) explaining his reasons for failing to disclose certain information in his prior student visa application. Citing to the record, I prepared the strongest legal briefs in support of a Motion to Reconsider and Rescind Inadmissibility Finding, as well as a 212(d)(3)(A) nonimmigrant waiver application as a backup option.

In his first F-1 student visa application, my client failed to disclose his prior names and previous visit to the United States. After the U.S. Embassy charged him as inadmissible and denied his visa due to misrepresentation, it instructed him to file for a nonimmigrant waiver of inadmissibility.

He did not file for the waiver, but instead hired another attorney to challenge the inadmissibility finding. The attorney submitted a Request for Advisory Opinion to the Visa Office, but did not counsel him to re-apply for the F-1 student visa and appeal directly to the U.S. Embassy to vacate the inadmissibility finding.

By the time he consulted me, he had been waiting for more than 2 years since his first F-1 visa application was denied and more than 1 year since his prior attorney filed the Request for Advisory Opinion (with no decision to date).

A willful misrepresentation charge under section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) permanently bars an applicant from obtaining a visa or entering the United States. To be inadmissible on this ground, he must not only willfully misrepresent information, but the information must also be material to his visa eligibility.

After reviewing my client’s case, I concluded his refusal to disclose information – which was specifically requested on the visa application form – did not affect whether he qualified for the visa. He also had compelling reasons for not providing the information, which had nothing to do with obtaining the visa.

I advised him to re-apply for the F-1 visa and, as option A, file a motion to vacate the inadmissibility finding directly with the U.S. Embassy.  He also agreed to have a 212(d)(3)(A) nonimmigrant waiver request prepared, as option B, in the event the U.S. Embassy denied his motion to vacate.

The U.S. Embassy agreed to vacate the 212(a)(6)(C)(i) charge and issue the F-1 visa after I presented a convincing legal argument, persuasive documentary evidence, and a detailed affidavit from my client showing he needed to enter the United States to attend school, has strong ties to his country, would pose no harm to the community, and did not commit material misrepresentation to be inadmissible.

The 212(d)(3)(A) waiver request was available as an alternative solution, but it normally takes at least four months to process. The client needed to receive his visa by May 1st to confirm attendance at the school, which had deferred his admission for more than two years and could not hold his place beyond fall 2017.

He was relieved and happy when the U.S. Embassy granted the motion to vacate inadmissibility finding and issued the F-1 visa by February 13th, which spared him from using the lengthier waiver application process.

Because the permanent bar to receiving a visa or entering the United States under 212(a)(6)(C)(i) no longer exists, it will be much easier for him to obtain visa renewals and travel to the United States.

My client, who lives in East Asia, communicated with me by Skype initially, and then by telephone and email during the course of representation. At the time he consulted me, he had contacted another attorney to file a 212(d)(3)(A) waiver request. The attorney told him it would take at least 4 months to prepare the waiver application and if he wanted it sooner, he would have to pay a much higher fee. The attorney did not advise him to file a motion to vacate the inadmissibility finding with the U.S. Embassy, even though this was the better option under the circumstances.

I prepared both the motion and the 212(d)(3)(A) waiver request at a reasonable fee within 2 months. The foreign national was pleased with the collaborative process and thankful for the favorable, timely results. This is a true success story in early 2017 for Dyan Williams Law PLLC.

Helping clients overcome visa refusals through the rescission of inadmissibility findings or through waiver grants are among my top areas of expertise. Enabling a foreign national to obtain a visa to enter the U.S. lawfully – especially after he has been deemed inadmissible- takes a lot of time, attention, and work. But the potential benefits are worth the dedicated effort.


Dyan Williams

Founder & Principal Attorney
Dyan Williams Law PLLC
(612) 225-9900


This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


Photo by: Tara R.

Effects & Impact of Trump’s Executive Order on Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States

On day 7 of his Administration, January 27, 2017, President Trump issued his third executive order on immigration, titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States. Of the three issued so far, this immigration order imposing a 90-day ban on “nationals of countries of particular concern,” suspending the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, and blocking Syrian refugees indefinitely is the most controversial. It led to widespread protests, outcry from some world leaders, federal court litigation, and confusion over how the order will be enforced.

Here is a description of Trump’s executive order on protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States, including the potential effects and impact: 

Authority: In the order, Trump cites to the Constitution and federal laws, such as the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) and 3 U.S.C. 301, as grounds for his presidential authority.

The president may set the policy and practices of immigration agencies and officials, in compliance with federal law set by Congress and the U.S. Constitution.

Purpose: Referring to the  September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the order notes, “State Department policy prevented consular officers from properly scrutinizing the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans.” It further states that amendments to the visa process, after September 11, “did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States.”

The order next generalizes, “Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas, or who entered through the United States refugee resettlement program.”

The order states the U.S. must not admit the following persons:

  • Those who bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles
  • Those who do not support the Constitution
  • Those who would place violent ideologies over American law
  • Those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own)
  • Those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation

Policy Highlights:

1.  90-Day Suspension of Issuance of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern  (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen)

The President invoked section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), to declare that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens (nationals) from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of  the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to U.S. interests.

The order does not specifically list the “countries of particular concern.” But a reference to section 217(a)(12) (Visa Waiver Program for certain visitors), the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (signed by President Obama in December 2015, as a rider on an omnibus spending bill), and related announcements indicate they are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. The White House has confirmed these seven countries are affected by the temporary ban.

The order suspends entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of the order. The exceptions are foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas. The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may also, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or other benefits to nationals of countries for which visas and benefits are otherwise blocked.

The order explains the 90-day suspension is to “reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies during the review period,” prioritize resources for the screening of foreign nationals, and implement adequate standards to bar foreign terrorists or criminals from entering the U.S.

The President instructs the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to determine the information needed from any country to ensure visas, admission, or other immigration benefits are not issued to persons posing a security or public-safety threat. They have 30 days to submit a report on the results of their review to the President. The report must include the Secretary’s determination of what information is needed to issue visas and other immigration benefits, plus a list of countries that do not provide adequate information.

The Secretary of State must then request all foreign governments that do not provide the required information on their nationals to start doing so within 60 days. After the 60-day period, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, must provide a list of countries that do not provide the information requested. The President may then issue another proclamation prohibiting the entry of nationals from those countries (except persons with diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas), until compliance occurs.

2. Implement Uniform Screening Standards for All Immigration Programs

The order calls for a uniform screening standard and procedure, including:

  • in-person interviews for all applicants;
  • a database of identity documents provided by applicants;
  • amended application forms that include questions aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent;
  • a mechanism to ensure that the applicant is who the applicant claims to be;
  • a process to evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society and the applicant’s ability to make contributions to the national interest;
  • a mechanism to assess whether or not the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.

3. Realignment of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for Fiscal Year 2017 

The order suspends refugee admissions for 120 days.  During this period, the Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of Homeland Security and in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, shall review the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) to determine what additional procedures should be taken to ensure refugee status is not granted to those who pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States, and shall implement these procedures.

Refugee applicants who are already in the USRAP process must first complete these revised procedures before they are admitted to the U.S.  After the 120-day period expires, the Secretary of State shall resume USRAP admissions only for nationals of countries for which the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence have determined the additional procedures are enough to protect national security.

Once refugee admissions resume, priority will be given to refugee claims made by persons on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided the religion is a minority religion in the person’s country of nationality. The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation that would assist with such prioritization.

The order bars Syrian refugees indefinitely. It states, ” the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States” and suspends their entry until the President determines sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure their admission is consistent with the national interest.

The order adds, “the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States,” and suspends their entry until the President determines additional admissions would be in the national interest.

During the suspension, refugees may be admitted on a case-by-case basis, but only if it is in the national interest — including when the person is a religious minority in his country facing religious persecution, when admitting the person would enable the U.S. to abide by a preexisting international agreement, or when the person is in transit and denying admission would cause undue hardship — and it would not pose a risk to national security.

The order also seeks to give state and local jurisdictions a role in deciding the placement or settlement of refugees in their states and cities.

4. Expedited Completion of the Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System

The order directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the United States, as recommended by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

5.  Visa Interview Security

The order suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program (not the Visa Waiver Program). The VIWP allowed consular officers to exempt low-risk/no-risk applicants from in-person interviews if they met certain criteria, including seeking to renew their temporary visas within a year of expiration.

Effects and Impact

1. Temporary banning of nationals from certain countries

The Trump Administration insists the temporary suspension is not a “Muslim ban,” but a temporary halt to better prevent  terrorists attacks in the United States.

Section 212 (f) of the Immigration & Nationality Act allows the President to suspend entry or impose travel restrictions in the national interest. It states: 

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

This is the first time a President, however, has used the statute to ban an entire nation from designated countries. The non-discrimination provision of 8 U.S.C. 1152(a)(1)(A) also states, “no person shall…be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.”

Because the White House says the order aims to stop terrorist attacks, which is in the national interest, critics question why certain countries are not on the list and others are.  Of the 19 hijackers involved in the September 11th terrorist attack, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, two from United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt and one from Lebanon. No fatal terrorist attacks were carried out by nationals from the seven countries targeted by Trump’s ban.

The Trump Administration pointed out the seven countries on the list originated from a law that Obama signed, in which nationals of or persons who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria Libya, Somalia, and Yemen are prohibited from using the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and must obtain visas to enter the U.S. The VWP allows citizens of more than 30 countries to visit the U.S. without a visa, as long as they are eligible (e.g. have no immigration violations) and seek entry as a tourist for 90 days or less.

Trump’s order banning entry of nationals from certain countries – even when they have valid visas or entry documents – is unprecedented. Although the suspension is temporary, the order indicates it could become permanent if the countries do not provide adequate information  on their nationals, as requested by the U.S. government. The Administration has also said the list could expand to include other countries.

War-torn countries with dysfunctional governments are unlikely to have or to hand over reliable information or public records on their nationals. Yet the order allows for a Presidential proclamation to continue a ban on nationals from countries that do not provide requested information.

Trump’s order went into effect as soon as he signed it. Airlines and immigration agencies were confused about how to enforce the ban. To date, the latest information is as follows:

U.S. citizens. Persons who hold a U.S. passport – whether as a natural-born or naturalized citizen – will be admitted to the country. The U.S. Customs & Border Protection, however, has authority to question citizens, especially if they have traveled to designated countries.

Dual citizens. Persons who hold a passport from a designated country and a passport from a non-designated country may choose how they present themselves for entry. Dual nationals should present the passport from the non-designated country, with a valid visa, to be admitted to the U.S. But they may be subject to questioning by the CBP, especially if they have traveled to designated countries.

Lawful permanent residents. Green card holders, even when they hold passports from designated countries, will be admitted to the U.S., absent derogatory information. They may, however, be subject to secondary inspection by the CBP just as they have always been.

Trump’s order bans immigrants (permanent residents/green card holders) from the countries of concern, but states a waiver may be issued in the national interest. In a statement issued on January 29, DHS Secretary John Kelly provided a blanket waiver stating, “I hereby deem the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest.” Kelly added, “Accordingly, absent the receipt of significant 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.”

Nonimmigrants from designated countries. Persons from designated countries will not be allowed to enter the U.S. as a visitor or in any other nonimmigrant visa category (except diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas). They may withdraw their application for admission and avoid an expedited removal order.

2. Heightened screening of applicants for visas and all other immigration benefits

Trump’s order includes revisions to the screening standard and procedures for persons applying for immigration benefits (e.g. nonimmigrant visas,  immigrant visas, and permanent resident status). It involves amendments to the application forms to detect fraud and malicious intent.

The U.S. immigration agencies and State Department currently use stringent screening methods and require heavy documentation before they issue immigration benefits. Fingerprints are taken and background checks are run before the benefit is granted.

The Form DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application, Form DS-260 immigrant visa application, and Form I-485 application for permanent residence include screening questions related to the person’s identity, travel history, immigration violations, and criminal history. They also include security and background questions, such as whether the person has ever been a member of a terrorist organization or committed any terrorist activity.

Adding more questions to the application forms is unlikely to reveal material information on the person’s propensity or intent to commit terrorist acts. The questions should also not result in discrimination based on protected grounds (e.g religious beliefs) or elicit irrelevant information (e.g. only naturalization applicants are required to support the Constitution).

A review of attacks linked to radicalized Muslims in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001, does not indicate a high correlation between lack of visa screening and terrorist attacks:

  • 2016 – Omar Mateen shot dead 49 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Although his parents were from Afghanistan, he was born in New York.
  • 2015 – Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik shot dead 14 people at an office in San Bernardino, Ca., before they were killed. He was born in Chicago to parents from Pakistan. She was born in Pakistan and raised mostly in Saudi Arabia.
  • 2015 – Mohammad Abdulazeez opened fire at two military recruiting centers in Chattanooga, Tenn., killing five U.S. military personnel. He was a naturalized American who was born in Kuwait to parents who were Jordanian and Palestinian.
  • 2013 – Two brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev carried out the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three. Tamerlan was born in the Soviet Union (now southern Russia), and Dzokhar was born in Kyrgyzstan. They were admitted to the U.S. on visitor visas as young children, along with their parents, before they were granted asylum and then permanent residence.
  • 2009 – Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, shot dead 13 in Ft. Hood, Texas. Hasan was born in Virginia to Palestinian parents who had immigrated from the West Bank.
  • 2009 – Abdulhakim Muhammad shot and killed an Army private at a recruiting center in Little Rock. He was born in Memphis to a Christian family, but converted to Islam and changed his name from Carlos Bledsoe.

Extreme vetting, as Trump calls it, could slow down visa and green card processing, deter family reunification, affect U.S. businesses in need of foreign national talent, and discourage travel to the U.S. that benefits the economy. Immediately after the order was issued, U.S. Consulates stopped processing visas,  cancelled visa interviews, and revoked visas when the applicant is a national of a designated country. USCIS also suspended green card processing for persons affected by the executive order.

3. Restricting refugee admissions

The 120-day suspension of the refugee program and indefinite ban on entry of all Syrian refugees has been met with strong opposition. Refugees have not been linked to terrorists attacks in the U.S., as the executive order seems to claim.

Refugees are among the most vulnerable groups in the world. They must show they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and/or political opinion in their country to obtain refugee status in the U.S.

Refugees undergo thorough background checks  and heavy scrutiny to be admitted to the country. They face recurrent vetting (background checks) throughout the refugee screening process. Those who are cleared to come to the U.S. must apply for a green card within one year, which requires a new cycle of vetting. Because rigorous screening already exists for refugees, the ban is criticized for being overreaching and discriminatory.

According to the executive order, priority will be given to applicants who are suffering religious-based prosecution, but only if they are minorities in their country. Trump said the move would protect Christians in Muslim-majority countries, which critics say amounts to religious discrimination.

Giving more power to states and localities to determine the placement of refugees in their jurisdiction is also subject to legal challenges.  Based on reports that one person involved in the November 2015 Paris terror attacks was carrying a Syrian passport (which may have been fake or stolen, according to subsequent reports), 31 governors said they opposed letting Syrian refugees into their states. While states have some discretion as to whether their agencies participate in the federally funded Refugee Resettlement Program,  they may not refuse assistance to refugees based on race, religion, nationality, sex, or political opinion. They may also not prevent refugees from moving into their state.

4. Tracking entries and exits

The biometric entry-exit screening system aims to track foreign visitors’ arrival and departure using information like fingerprints. Such a system was first required by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act signed by President Clinton in 1996. It was further recommended by the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission in 2004.

The “entry” part of the system is in place. Persons who enter the U.S. on a visa or the Visa Waiver Program normally provide biometric information (fingerprints and a digital photograph) to U.S. border officials. Outside of a few pilot programs, travelers face no biometric exit screening.

CBP previously issued a paper Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record), which was to be turned into the commercial carrier or CBP upon departure. CBP switched to scanning a traveler’s passport, generating an electronic arrival record with data elements found on the current paper Form I-94, and making the electronic I-94 available on its website. CBP records departures electronically via manifest information provided by the carrier or its own system.

In a fiscal year 2016 report to Congress, then-Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, announced CBP would redouble its efforts to complete the biometric entry/exit system, and  begin implementing biometric exit, starting at the highest volume U.S. airports, in 2018.

This report noted that about 99% of nonimmigrant visitors arriving at air and sea ports of entry complied with the terms of their admission. It added the biometric exit program is not limited to collecting biometric information from a departing passenger, but must also help ensure the passenger actually departs the U.S.

The report stated that obstacles included existing  infrastructure at U.S. airports, which did not support biometric exit control procedures. Thus, “deploying an effective biometric exit system includes designing and developing a new process for verifying departure where none exists today and doing so in a very complex and time-sensitive operational environment.”

For the system to work properly, it needs to cover all land, air, and sea ports of entry, which is a major undertaking. Trump’s order to expedite the entry-exit system is a continuation of prior Administrations’ efforts.

5. Suspending the Visa Interview Waiver Program

The suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program means consular officers must interview all visa applicants, regardless of whether they previously met the criteria for a visa grant without an interview. Children under age 14, applicants over age 80, and applicants whose visas recently expired may no longer obtain visa renewals without an in-person interview at the Consulate.

In-person interviews for low-risk/no-risk applicants could make even routine applications more complicated and time consuming and create bottlenecks at U.S. Consulates handling frequent visitors. Discouraging tourism and visits to the U.S. by law-abiding persons may result from this new inconvenience.


The 90-day bar on entry of nationals from affected countries, 120-day suspension of the refugee program, and indefinite ban on Syrian refugees triggered fear and uncertainty among immigrant groups. After the executive order was issued, nationals of designated countries with valid visas and refugees who had completed the screening process were prevented from boarding flights or denied entry to the U.S.

Although the White House deems the suspension as temporary, the executive order states all the timelines may be extended by a new Presidential proclamation.  In the meantime, the situation is in flux due to legal challenges and the Administration’s backing down on certain aspects. Dozens of federal court lawsuits have been filed to challenge the bans. Attorney Generals of several states, including Minnesota, Washington, New York, Virginia and Massachusetts, are also taking legal action against the ban, calling it unconstitutional.

On January 28, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York was the first to issue an emergency stay of removal, preventing the Department of Homeland Security from removing individuals with approved refugee status, holders of valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas, and other individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen legally authorized to enter the United States.

On February 3, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, in Seattle, issued a restraining order temporarily blocking the ban on entry to the United States, nationwide. Visa holders and refugees from the designated countries may be admitted to the U.S. while the court order is in effect. The White House vowed to fight it.

The executive order stops short of Trump’s campaign call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Still, the ban on entire nations from designated countries has been met with legal battles, massive protests and ongoing criticism. For the executive order to come close to accomplishing its stated purpose, it will have to first survive the backlash.

For information on Trump’s other executive orders on immigration, read:

Effects & Impact of Trump’s Executive Order on Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements

Effects & Impact of Trump’s Executive Order on Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


Photo by: Dimitry