Published on: Mar 04, 2019, Last Edited: Mar 04, 2019
More than 37,000 US visa applications were rejected by the US State Department in 2018 due to President Trump's "travel ban," according to figures released earlier this week. The State Department confirmed that the 2017 E.O. on immigration had been fully effective since December 2018. The third version of President Trump’s executive order, this places restrictions on immigration from countries including Iran, Libya, Chad, Syria, Somalia and Yemen as well as Venezuela and North Korea.
This represents a substantial increase from the previous year when fewer than 1000 applications in the same category were rejected. Individuals from Libya, Syria, Yemen and Iran were particularly affected, with the numbers of visas issued to people from these countries falling by almost 80% compared to 2016, the last full year before the “travel ban” was implemented.
If an applicant from one of these countries is otherwise eligible for a visa, Officials are permitted to grant a waiver at their discretion. The applicant must demonstrate that denying the visa would cause undue hardship, that they do not present a threat to US national security or public safety and that their entry would be in the US national interest. To date, 2,673 applicants have been deemed to meet these criteria and received visas.
The policy states that close family members of US citizens would be appropriate to receive a visa waiver; before the travel ban came into force, it would typically take around two years for a spouse or fiance of a US citizen to get a visa. Now, with so few actually being granted, the policy is causing considerable hardship and distress to some US families.
This executive order is causing currently being challenged through the courts as immigration lawyers are suing the federal government on behalf of 36 applicants whose visas have been delayed.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is launching a new version of Form I-539 from 11 March and immigration applicants will be required to use the new form from this date. All applicants must attend a biometric appointment and must also pay a biometric fee of $85.
Form I-539 is for changing or extending non-immigrant status. It applies to people in US Visa streams such as F-1, H-4, and TN or B-1 status. On and after the 11th March 2019, only the new form will be acceptable. However, the form will not be available before this date.
The current Supplemental form for co-applicants will also be replaced with a new version of Form I-539A: all co-applications will have to be submitted individually except in the case of children under the age of 14, whose parents will still be able to sign on their behalf.
These are significant changes and may well cause further delays in processing applications. In the past, USCIS often adjudicated the dependent form alongside the primary application for US visas such as H-1B and L-1 but the biometric requirement will mean that this is no longer possible. After 11 March, Cards for Employment Authorisation will also no longer be ruled on at the same time as the primary visa application.
A complaint has been filed with the US Department of Homeland Security that 9 infants under the age of 1 year are being held in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Texas. The babies’ mothers claim that their children are losing weight and showing other signs of illness and distress: immigrants' rights groups have strongly recommended the DHS to release the babies and their mothers immediately.
Last year, five babies were detained in a single incident but this year, up to 11 infants have already been held at one time. Immigrants' rights groups say that conditions at the centre are unsuitable for small babies, with coughs, chest infections and other illnesses spreading easily through the shared dormitories. The mothers, who are mostly from Honduras, are also worried that the tap water is not clean enough for preparing baby formula and that sudden changes to the types of formula given to the babies has upset them.
The Flores agreement rules that infants should not be detained for more than 20 days, although President Trump has attempted to amend the ruling. An assocation of immigrant lawyers filed the complaint; they included in it a statement by Physicians for Human Rights condemning the government’s actions in holding children in detention centres, environments that pose serious threats to their health and wellbeing.