International

Trump Unveils Revamped Travel Ban

September 24, 2017

Update (9/25/2017, 3:21 p.m.): On Monday morning the U.S. Supreme Court canceled arguments scheduled for October 10 on President Trump’s travel ban, The New York Times reported. Instead, lawyers are to submit briefs by October 5 discussing the effect of the revamped travel restrictions that the president announced on Sunday.

With just a few weeks before his controversial travel ban gets a Supreme Court hearing, President Trump has issued revamped restrictions on travelers from eight countries, including Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

Unlike the original travel ban, which barred travelers from a half-dozen predominantly Muslim countries, the new rules, released Sunday night, vary from country to country, preventing the citizens of certain nations from visiting the United States while increasing scrutiny of visa applications from others.

Unlike the original, temporary, ban, the new order extends indefinitely.

For instance, the executive order bars all travel from Syria, while it restricts Venezuelan government officials and their families from coming to the United States. It cuts off most visitors from Iran but carves out a special exemption for those on student visas, although it says they will be subject to enhanced vetting.

While the measure is more tailored, it is likely to cause continued headaches for colleges, which have spent the last nine months scrambling to convince an important and increasingly lucrative audience — international students and their families — that the United States remains a welcoming place. And unlike the original ban, which was temporary and expired on Sunday, the new order extends indefinitely.

Five of the countries announced Sunday — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — were included in the travel ban, while three other countries — Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela — were added. One country on the original list, Sudan, was not included in the new measure, which takes effect October 18, presumably because it met American screening requirements.

The restrictions will not apply to current visa holders, meaning that students and scholars  from the affected countries who are already in the United States will be allowed to stay.

The new restrictions are meant to improve national security, administration officials said, by limiting or altogether blocking travel from countries that fail to comply with security standards that would prevent terrorists from entering the United States. The rules are actually an outgrowth of the original ban, which called for a 90-day review of security policies.

The initial order was issued in late January, just a week into the new president’s term. Though Mr. Trump had made anti-foreigner rhetoric part of his campaign, few expected such a sweeping action and so soon. Thousands of travelers from the affected countries, including students and scholars, were stranded overseas; some had their visa status changed while in the air. There was even confusion among those enforcing the ban, with government officials giving contradictory guidance about whether green-card holders would be subject to its restrictions.

College leaders were outspoken in condemning the ban, calling it antithetical to the principles that higher education, and the United States, value. On campuses, administrators sought to reassure international students, both those from the affected countries and those who worried they might be next.

While the administration asserted that the travel prohibition was put in place for security reasons, critics charged that it targeted Muslims. The order was quickly challenged in court, and a federal judge in Washington state blocked it, citing, in part, the harm to the state’s public universities and their students. A second, slightly reworked, version of the ban was also successfully challenged.

The administration appealed the rulings, and in June the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The court also partially reinstated the ban, although it specified that students were exempt and could travel freely.

It’s unclear what impact the new restrictions could have on the case, which is set for oral arguments on October 10. The rules, however, are likely to further complicate colleges’ global recruitment efforts. The impact of the travel ban on this fall’s international enrollments was somewhat muted, both because it came fairly late in the admissions process and because colleges doubled down to ensure admitted students enrolled. But educators are deeply anxious that it and other administration policies seen as hostile to foreigners could have a chilling effect on recruitment around the globe.

More than a million international students currently study on American campuses, contributing nearly $36 billion to the economy.

Of the countries included in the order, however, only Iran, which sends about 12,300 students in American colleges annually, and Venezuela, which sends 8,300, are among the 25 largest source countries for foreign students.

Karin Fischer writes about international education, colleges and the economy, and other issues. She’s on Twitter @karinfischer, and her email address is karin.fischer@chronicle.com.