During the Trump Administration, travel bans were issued and revised in an effort to reduce the presence in the United States of immigrant and non-immigrant visa holders from certain countries. President Trump issued bans prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and unrelated to it, as well as travel bans issued during the pandemic, intended to limit the spread of COVID-19. This article outlines these travel bans, their impact, and the Biden Administration’s extension and revocation of some of them.
Pandemic Travel Bans
At the outset of the pandemic in 2020, the Trump Administration issued rules that limited travel to the United States for individuals from certain countries, and limited the issuance of visas and Green Cards. Some of these pandemic-related travel bans are still in effect, while others have been modified or expanded, and some lifted by the Biden Administration
What Were The Trump Administration Pandemic Travel Bans
To understand the pandemic-related travel bans, it is helpful to distinguish between the bans on the issuance of Green Cards and visas from the bans on travel to the United States.
Halting Green Cards and Certain Visas
The Trump Administration issued a proclamation that suspended some types of work visas and banned the issuance of new Green Cards. The proclamation applied only to foreign nationals applying for new travel visas from abroad, and did not affect those who already had a travel visa in their passport. Impacted work visas included the H-1B, H-2B, J-1, and L-1 visas.
The consequences of halting Green Cards and certain visas was felt by thousands of individuals throughout the world as most immigrant visas were blocked by the orders. In sum, it is estimated that up to 120,000 family-based preference visas were lost to the suspension, and 26,000 individuals per month were estimated to have been denied the opportunity to obtain a green card. The suspension also contributed to a growing backlog of unissued visas, including family-based visas, which has a backlog of over 400,000 visas alone.
Limiting Entry to the U.S. from Certain Countries
In January and February 2020, the Trump Administration suspended entry into the United States for individuals who present in China or Iran within 14 days prior to entry into the United States. This suspension excluded Hong Kong and Macau.
Has the Biden Administration Lifted the Pandemic Travel Bans?
As the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, the Biden Administration has altered or revoked some of these travel restrictions, while expanding or extending others.
Are Green Cards and Visas Now Being Issued?
In February 2021, the Biden Administration lifted the freeze on issuing Green Cards and other visas. In doing so, the U.S. Department of State issued instructions to immigrant visa (Green Card) applicants. Applicants who were not yet interviewed or scheduled for an interview will have their applications processed according to a phased resumption of visa services framework.
Those immigrant applicants who were previously refused and whose petitions remain valid can refer to instructions from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where they were interviewed as the State Department has vowed to reconsider cases that were previously refused due to the Trump Administration restrictions.
Applicants for the 2020 Diversity Visa and whose visas are still valid may enter the U.S. right away; however, those with expired DV-2020 visas may not be issued a replacement visa unless the DV-2020 visa was received as a result of a court order from the court case Gomez v. Trump.
In September 2021, the Biden Administration announced a new requirement that immigrants and certain non-immigrant arriving to the United States must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to entry into the U.S.
Are There Still Travel Restrictions for Foreign Nationals?
In January 2021, the Biden Administration issued a proclamation that continued the suspension of entry into the United States for individuals present in certain countries within 14 days prior to their entry into the United States.
As of September 2021, the suspension applied to 33 total countries, including those in the Schengen Area of Europe; the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Brazil, and South Africa. However, the Biden Administration has announced that by early November, individuals from these 33 countries who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 may travel without restriction to the United States.
The United States also continues to restrict land travel across the Canada and Mexico border by barring nonessential travel, such as tourism. This restriction has been extended to October 21, 2021.
Biden Lifts Travel Bans and Adds Vaccination Requirement
On October 25, 2021, President Biden issued a Presidential Proclamation that will lift the country-by-country bans placed on international air travel to the United States only for travellers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with any of the seven vaccines approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
This includes mixed-dose vaccines for individuals who received a booster shot with a different vaccine than they were originally inoculated with. However, this does not include the Sputnik vaccine, developed by Russia, and extensively used by Latin American countries, including Mexico.
Beginning November 8, 2021, international travellers headed for the United States will need to have proof of full vaccination from an “official source” before airlines will allow them to board U.S.-bound flights. Travellers must have received their full vaccination at least two weeks prior to flying to the United States.
The President’s proclamation said, “it is in the interests of the United States to move away from the country-by-country restrictions previously applied during the COVID-19 pandemic and to adopt an air travel policy that relies primarily on vaccination to advance the safe resumption of international air travel to the United States.”
Unvaccinated travellers, including U.S. citizens, will have to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of departure for the United States. Children under the age of 18 will be exempt from the vaccination requirement but must still provide a negative test taken within three days prior to travel to the United States.
This new rule effectively lifts the travel ban that was imposed on 33 select countries, which prohibited direct travel from those countries to the United States and required travellers from these countries to quarantine for two weeks elsewhere in order to be eligible to travel to the U.S.
Travel between U.S. land borders will also reopen on November 8 to individuals who can prove full vaccination with official documentation, including documentation not in English. This requirement applies at official ports of entry and upon boarding trains bound for the United States. Unvaccinated children under the age of 18 will be eligible to enter the United States at a port of entry if they are travelling with a fully vaccinated adult.
U.S. land borders have been open to essential travel throughout the pandemic for legal trade, emergency response, and medical reasons. No negative COVID-19 test or vaccine requirement was required for essential travel between the U.S. and Mexico prior , however. Canada has restricted travel to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, which allowed non-essential travel on those conditions. Those over the age of 5 have otherwise been required to show proof of a negative test result within 72 hours of travel to Canada.
Biden Revokes Trump’s Pre-Pandemic Travel Bans
In January 2021, President Joe Biden issued a Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to The United States. This proclamation revoked Executive Order 13780, which was issued by former President Donald Trump as well as three proclamations also issued by the former president. The revoked Executive Order, and the three revoked proclamations, were initially issued in order to prevent individuals from certain countries, especially Muslim and African countries, from coming to the United States.
What Were Trump’s Pre-Pandemic Travel Bans
Executive Order 13769
In January 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13769, which sought to seriously limit immigration to the United States by individuals from Muslim-populated countries.
Among other provisions, the Executive Order suspended entry of Syrian refugees into the United States indefinitely and directed some cabinet secretaries to suspend entry of individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days.
The Executive Order also capped the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. at 50,000 and suspended the U.S. Refugees Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. As a consequence of this Executive Order, more than 700 travelers were detained and up to 60,000 visas were provisionally revoked.
However, this Executive Order was immediately challenged in court by several U.S. states and was ultimately put on pause while litigation moved forward. Instead of waiting for the litigation to resolve, President Trump issued Executive Order 13780, which revoked Executive Order 13780 and provided new provisions that focused on limiting immigration from certain countries.
Executive Order 13780
In March 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13780, which was written in response to litigation over Executive Order 13769, but contained many of the same desired effects as the previous Executive Order.
In the updated Executive Order 13780, President Trump suspended entry into the United States for individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days.
When the Executive Order was ultimately and finally revised in February 2020, it included a travel ban to the U.S. of all nationals of Iran other than student or exchange visitor visa holders; nationals from Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia, Kyrgyzstan, and Eritrea on immigrant visas; nationals of Sudan and Tanzania on diversity visas; all nationals of North Korea and Syria; nationals of Libya and Yemen on immigrant, tourist, or business visas; and some government officials of Venezuela on tourist or business visas.
President Trump also lowered the annual cap of refugees admissible to the U.S. from over 100,000 to 15,000.
What Impact Does Lifting Trump’s Pre-Pandemic Travel Bans Have?
In President Biden’s Proclamation, the Trump Administration’s travel bans were revoked, and Biden Cabinet Members were directed to restart and revisit visa application processing for previously-banned applicants.
Under the proclamation, the Secretary of State was required to develop a plan for expeditiously adjudicating the applications of applicants who were being considered for a waiver of restrictions under the revoked proclamations.
The Secretary of State was also required to develop a plan to reconsider the applications of visa applicants who were denied under the revoked proclamations, and to determine whether an additional fee must be charged to process those applications. Moreover, the Secretary of State was also required to develop a plan to ensure that visa applicants are not prejudiced on account of a previous visa denial under the revoked proclamations if they choose to re-apply for a visa.
The Biden Administration’s proclamation required the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence to conduct an assessment, review, and produce proposals regarding the vetting processes employed by the United States for visa applicants.
Finally, the Biden Administration first raised the annual cap on refugees admissible to the United States to 62,500 and has promised to raise the cap to 125,000 or more.