WASHINGTON—The State Department rejected more than 37,000 visa applications in 2018 because of the Trump administration’s travel ban, up from fewer than 1,000 the previous year, when the ban hadn’t fully taken effect, according to agency data.
The United States denies almost 4 million visa applications a year for a variety of reasons, including for practicing polygamy, abducting children, or simply not qualifying for the visa in question. The data released Feb. 26 was the first comprehensive look at the effects of the ban ordered by President Donald Trump shortly after he took office, and which was initially blocked by federal courts.
The ban has especially affected people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, countries where the number of visas issued slid 80 percent in 2018 from 2016, the last year without a travel ban.
Trump’s initial January 2017 executive order, which banned entry to the United States by citizens of several Muslim-majority countries, launched a fierce fight in federal courts over whether the policy amounts to an unlawful “Muslim ban” or was a legal exercise of presidential power.
The administration revised the policy following court challenges, and the Supreme Court allowed it to largely go into effect in December 2017 while legal challenges continued. In June 2018, the high court upheld the new version of the ban.
As a result, most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen have not been able to enter the United States for more than a year. Venezuela and North Korea also were targeted in the current policy, but those restrictions weren’t challenged in court.
The figures released show the government denied 15,384 applications for immigrant visas—given to those who want to live permanently in the United States—due to the “2017 Executive Order on Immigration.” A State Department spokeswoman confirmed that term referred to the travel ban policy.
In addition, 21,645 applications for non-immigrant visas—given to people coming for short-term visits for business, tourism, or other reasons—were denied due to the ban. Approximately 2,200 visa applications overcame denials based on the travel ban last year, but it was unclear how many of those applications were initially made in 2018 or earlier.
The data didn’t include how many visa applications were made by citizens from countries affected by the travel ban.
Every month, the State Department releases the numbers of visas issued to citizens of all countries, including those under the travel ban, but it doesn’t publish equivalent monthly information on the number of visa applications or denials by country.
Other previously released data from the State Department shows that the number of U.S. visas issued to citizens of the countries under the travel ban has dropped drastically as a result of its implementation.
In the fiscal year from Oct. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2018, citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen—the five countries consistently on the travel ban list throughout its different iterations—received approximately 14,600 U.S. visas. That is down 80 percent from approximately 72,000 visas issued for citizens of those countries in fiscal year 2016, when no such ban was in place.
Why the Ban?
Trump issued the ban “to protect the Nation from terrorist activities by foreign nationals admitted to the United States,” the March 6 executive order stated. The targeted countries either don’t cooperate with the U.S. screening process or are so unstable as to render the current screening methods ineffective.
Trump’s original order targeted seven countries, based on the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 that tightened U.S. visa requirements for people coming from, or who had recently traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria.
Originally, only the four countries were included on the bill, but the Department of Homeland Security was tasked to add any other “countries of concern.” The department then added Libya, Somalia, and Yemen on Feb. 18, 2016, citing a “growing threat from foreign terrorist fighters.”
The threat was based on concerns that as the ISIS terrorist group continued to lose ground in Iraq and Syria, its fighters were shifting from military combat in the Middle East to “lone wolf” terrorism and were trying to infiltrate Europe and the United States as refugees, immigrants, and other travelers.
The European Union, which accepted large numbers of refugees from the targeted countries, saw terrorism-related arrests increase by nearly 60 percent between 2014 and 2017, according to a Europol report (pdf). Among those arrests where a type of terrorism was reported, almost 90 percent were related to jihadist terrorism.
By Yeganeh Torbati.
The Epoch Times reporter Petr Svab contributed to this report.