Vast Majority of Requests for Waivers of Trump Travel Ban Being Denied

Foreign travel into the U.S. by nationals of six countries, including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen is barred without a waiver--but such waivers are nearly impossible to get.


Over a year has passed since Donald Trump signed the "Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States." This order placed a supposedly temporary ban on foreign travel into the U.S. by nationals of six countries, including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

It has been challenged in federal court numerous times, and blocked by some. However, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to schedule hearings on these federal court actions (temporary restraining orders) it said all such orders should be lifted in the interim. The ban thus stands.

The order also included a provision saying waivers of the ban would be available, based on case-by-case, individual decisions by officers of a U.S. consulate or embassy or of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It's a discretionary decision, meaning no one has a "right" to a waiver, and denials cannot be appealed or sued over.

Looking back over the past year's experience with such waivers, experts have asked: Are any actually being granted? As of mid-2018, however, the answer appears to be, "Only a few."

In fact, the government has said so little about any aspect of the waiver process that Congress decided to get involved. On January 31, 2018, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

They demanded guidance on the travel-ban waiver process, as well as details regarding how many applicants from the travel-ban countries have applied for and received these waivers.

DOS provided a response in mid-February. The agency calculated that it had, between December 8, 2017 and January 8, 2018, received a total of 8,406 applications for nonimmigrant and immigrant visas from travel-ban affected people.

Of those, 128 applicants qualified for visas without a waiver, because they fell into categories exempted from the ban.

But the U.S. rejected the waiver requests for all but two applicants as of February 15, 2018. Later, in early March of 2018, DOS told Reuters that it had granted another 100-plus waivers. It did not, however, state how many additional applications it had received.

Thus, although the trend toward waiver approval is heading upward, the continued low numbers of approvals, combined with DOS's lack of guidance on waiver application standards, means immigrants seeking waivers have little reason to plan or hope for success.

Effective Date: March 6, 2018