A scaled-back version of U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban took effect Thursday evening, stripped of provisions that brought protests and chaos at airports worldwide in January, yet still likely to generate a new round of court fights.
The new rules, the product of months of legal wrangling, aren't so much an outright ban as a tightening of already-tough visa policies affecting citizens from six Muslim-majority countries. Refugees are covered, too.
Administration officials promised that implementation this time around, which started at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday, would be orderly. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Dan Hetlage said his agency expected "business as usual at our ports of entry," with all valid visa holders still being able to travel.
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Earlier, the Trump administration had set new criteria for visa applicants from six mainly Muslim nations and all refugees who require a "close" family or business tie to the United States.
The move comes the same week the Supreme Court partially restored Trump's executive order on the matter.
Visas that have already been approved will not be revoked, but instructions issued by the State Department on Wednesday said that new applicants from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen 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 still awaiting approval for admission to the U.S.
Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, fiancés or other extended family members are not considered to be close relationships, according to the guidelines issued in a cable sent to all U.S. embassies and consulates late Wednesday.
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 U.S. would be exempt.
That exemption does not apply to anyone seeking a relationship with an American business or educational institution purely for the purpose of avoiding the rules, the cable said. A hotel reservation or car rental contract, even if prepaid, would also not count, it said.
According to the cable, consular officers may grant other exemptions to applicants from the six nations if:
- They have "previously established significant contacts with the United States."
- They have "significant business or professional obligations" in the U.S.
- They are an infant, adopted child or in need of urgent medical care.
- They are travelling for business with a recognized international organization or the U.S. government.
- They are a legal resident of Canada who applies for a visa in Canada.
Meanwhile, the Middle East's biggest airline says its flights to the United States are operating as normal as new travel guidelines come into effect.
Dubai-based Emirates said in response to questions on the travel ban Thursday that it "remains guided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on this matter."
The carrier reminded passengers that they "must possess the appropriate travel documents, including a valid U.S. entry visa, in order to travel."
Shortly after taking office, Trump ordered a refugee ban and a travel ban affecting the six countries, plus Iraq. He said it was needed to protect the U.S. 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.
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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 Monday partially reinstated it.
The initial travel ban led to chaos at airports around the world, but because the guidelines exempt previously issued visas, similar problems are not expected. After a judge blocked the original ban, Trump issued a scaled-down order and the court's action Monday further reduced the number of people who would be covered by it. Also, while the initial order took effect immediately, adding to the confusion, this one was delayed 72 hours after the court's ruling.