Policy Implications of the Presidential Executive Order Concerning Refugees

Source: LIRS      Editor: Tania Cohen

President Trump’s executive order addressing United States refugee resettlement and immigration policy has created significant confusion for refugees, other visa applicants/holders, and resettlement agencies. The information below will help you understand the direct policy implications of the executive order. Please note that this information is not legal advice but instead provides the best answers LSS/NCA and our national affiliate, LIRS, can provide at this time.  The impact of the executive order may change depending on a variety of legal and political factors.

What does the executive order do?

In brief: The executive order suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days (4 months) for all refugee populations. It also prevents Syrian refugees from being resettled in the United States indefinitely. Lastly, it prevents all people of Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian, Somali, Sudanese, Yemeni, and Libyan nationalities from traveling to the United States for any reason for 90 days. According to a statement by Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Kelly made on January 29, 2017, people of the above nationalities with green cards to maintain legal permanent residence in the United States who are currently outside of the United States will be permitted to reenter the country. The order and Secretary Kelly’s statement allow exceptions to be made on a case-by-case basis by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security.

How long is the executive order in effect?

Under the order, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is suspended for 120 days (4 months) for all refugees. All people of Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian, Somali, Sudanese, Yemeni, and Libyan nationalities are banned from traveling to the United States for 90 days beginning on January 27, 2017. Lastly, Syrian refugees are barred from being resettled in the United States until further notice.

What does the injunction that was issued on Saturday, January 28 mean?

The injunction blocked immigration officials nationwide from deporting individuals from countries listed in the executive order who arrived in the United States with valid immigration and non-immigration visas in the immediate hours following the signing of the executive order. It still allows the U.S. government to detain these individuals, pending further legal review. The injunction does not impact anyone overseas, and it does not stop the executive order from being implemented. If you have a valid immigration or non-immigration visa but are a national of one of the affected countries, you are advised to seek legal advice before flying to the United States.

Who does the executive order affect?

The executive order impacts all people seeking refugee status in the United States, as well as all people of Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Somali, Sudanese, Yemeni, and Libyan nationalities (except, most likely, those with green cards to live in the United States) hoping to travel to the United States for any reason. This includes people who hold special immigrant visas (SIVs – granted to Iraqi nationals who worked for the U.S. military), Visa 93s (family reunification visas for refugees joining family members who are already in the United States), other refugees, and parolees. The U.S. government has the power to ban travel from additional countries not currently listed, and to make exceptions when issuing visas or other immigration benefits to people who fall under a restricted or banned category.

Who qualifies for an exception to the 120-day stop on refugee resettlement?

Exceptions can only be made on a case-by-case basis as determined by the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security. The decision about whether or not to grant an exception will be based on an evaluation of whether the exception is in the national interest, the person would pose a risk to the United States, the person is a religious minority facing religious persecution, the admission of the person is required to ensure that the U.S. complies with an international agreement, or when a person is already in transit to the United States and being denied admission would cause unnecessary hardship. It is not yet clear how the government would determine answers to these questions when considering requests for exceptions.

When will the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program resume?

Resumption of the program is dependent upon decisions by the Secretary of State, Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence that there are sufficient safeguards to ensure American national security after reinstating the program. The earliest this can occur is on May 27, 2017 (120 days after the executive order was signed). The Administration may choose to increase the security screening processes for refugees effective after the program is reinstated.

What happens to refugees who were supposed to arrive in the United States in the coming weeks?

All travel has been cancelled for people of Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian, Somali, Sudanese, Yemeni, and Libyan nationalities who were in the U.S. refugee resettlement pipeline and scheduled to arrive in the U.S. after February 2, 2017. This includes refugees, SIVs, Visa 93s, and parolees, and people who may be considered a religious minority in their country of nationality. This cancellation applies until further notice is given by the U.S. government. Iraqi and Afghani SIVs should seek legal guidance before booking flights to the United States.

Although the executive order provides for the possibility of exceptions, it is unlikely for large numbers of refugees to be admitted during the suspension. Local resettlement agencies are advised not to secure leases, place security deposits, or otherwise prepare homes for refugees previously expected to arrive in the United States after February 2, 2017.

Additionally, all United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) screening interviews with refugees around the world have been cancelled and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is not making any bookings for refugees or SIVs during the suspension period.

Travel scheduled between February and March 2017 for refugees not of the above listed nationalities will likely be cancelled, although this is currently unconfirmed. Travel during that time period for refugees of the seven above listed nationalities has been cancelled. USCIS will continue staffing its refugee support centers around the world and will provide information to clients as it is available.


 If refugees were already undergoing the necessary steps to be resettled in the United States when the executive order went into effect, can they be resettled during the 120 day suspension?

No, unless they receive an exception. Additionally, after the 120 day period is over, if the Administration determines that the program can continue without endangering American national security, refugees who were previously resettled may have to obtain new security and medical clearances prior to traveling to the United States if their pre-existing clearances expired during the 120 day period.

How will the executive order affect refugees who are already in the United States?

It is unknown what impact, if any, the executive order will have on refugees who are already in the United States. This includes your legal status, ability to adjust your status when eligible, and ability to file for family reunification in the immediate future, depending on how the executive order is implemented. The order may require additional screening for individuals already present in the United States. More information will be provided as it becomes available. If you have questions, you are advised to contact an immigration lawyer, your resettlement agency, or the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security.

How will the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program change if and when the suspension is lifted?

  • The maximum number of refugees that can be admitted annually will be reduced from 110,000 to 50,000, which is slightly lower than the annual maximum in recent years before former President Obama increased it to allow for 110,000 in 2017. This does not mean that 50,000 refugees must be admitted; only that that is the maximum number that can
  • The order requires the program, upon its resumption, to prioritize resettling religious minorities who experience religion-based persecution in their home countries due to their minority status.
  • The order completely ends resettling Syrian refugees until the President determines that the vetting procedures for Syrians are “consistent with the national interest.”
  • The order directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to determine whether more decision-making power regarding refugee resettlement can be transferred to state and local governments.

How will the refugee screening process change?

The executive order states that the process should “evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positive contributing member of society and his/her ability to make contributions to the national interest.”  It is unknown what specific changes will be made to the screening process to achieve this goal. You should contact the Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs for information about visa processing.

What do we know now about changes to refugee processing?

  • The Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs will issue separate guidance regarding the continuation or suspension of Visas 93 cases.
  • For P-3 cases, AOR prescreening may continue but USCIS circuit rides are suspended, as is travel and related out-processing activities.

Will services to refugees who have arrived in the U.S. on or before the date of the executive order continue?

As of now, yes. The executive order did not include any restrictions to services to refugees. Funding for resettlement services is dependent upon Congress, and appropriations have already been allocated through April 28, 2017. However, further funds must be appropriated for these accounts on or before April 28, 2017 when the current continuing resolution ends.

Can U.S. foreign nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, or Libya travel outside the United States during the suspension period?

Unless you are a naturalized U.S. citizen, you are advised not to travel outside the United States if you are from one of the listed countries. Foreign nationals of these countries are encouraged to make a free appointment at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) by visiting https://my.uscis.gov/appointment or consult an accredited representative or lawyer who specializes in immigration law. This website provides a national mapping of immigration lawyers: https://www.immigrationlawhelp.org/. (See also: https://www.uscis.gov/avoid-scams).

What if I am a Syrian and currently present in the U.S. claiming asylum or here under Temporary Protected Status?

It is unclear whether the new screening process will impact recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or any group of migrants including Syrians. Some applicants and visa holders may be required to go through additional screening.

How will Afghan and Iraqi SIVs be affected by the executive order?

All nationals from Iraq, including SIVs, are banned completely from the United States for 90 days beginning on January 27, 2017 unless they receive an exception from the U.S. government. SIV holders (and their family members who may be joining SIV holders already in the United States) from Afghanistan do not appear to be affected by the executive order at this time. Afghan SIVs are advised to seek legal guidance before booking flights to the United States. Iraqi SIVs are advised not to self-book flights during the 90 day ban. We are awaiting further guidance from the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State about how the executive order will affect these populations.



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