NIAC Deeply Concerned by Flight Ban on Iranian Students

In response to recent reports that the Trump Administration is preventing Iranian students with visas from boarding their flights to the United States, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“The National Iranian American Council is deeply concerned by reports that a large number of Iranian students with visas were barred from boarding their flights at the last minute by the Trump administration. The students were fully vetted and set to study in the United States during the fall semester, and now have had their futures thrown into disarray with no explanation from either the State Department or Department of Homeland Security. 

“NIAC calls on the Trump Administration to provide a full and transparent accounting of what is behind these recent actions and whether a new policy has been put in place. NIAC is working with several of those impacted, as well as Congress, regarding these cases and inquiring with several branches of government. We will keep working to ensure that this and all bans imposed by the Trump administration on Iranian nationals are lifted once and for all.”

“The current iteration of Trump’s Muslim ban – which continues to unfairly discriminate against Iranian nationals – includes narrow exemptions for Iranian students to secure visas. However, many of those lucky enough to secure entry to American colleges and visas from the State Department now appear to have encountered a second ban that turned them back from the airport. The Trump administration owes it to the American people – which strongly opposes the Muslim ban – as well as to Congress and those impacted to fully detail the reason for its flight ban on Iranian students, the number of individuals impacted and to permit those who pose no security risk to travel to the United States to begin or resume their studies.”

Did you have a visa to study in the United States, but were turned away prior to boarding or upon entry to the United States? Fill out our form so that we can track the impact and help determine the cause of this change in government policy. We will keep all information confidential.

Muslim Ban Statistics Show Continued Discriminatory Impact

For 2.5 years, the Muslim Ban has succeeded in separating American families and making the country less inclusive. Thanks to an amendment from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 requires the Trump administration to provide a detailed report every 90 days until September 30, 2019 regarding the implementation of the ban. Below are some of the most relevant findings of the first report, which was issued in June. New data is due to be reported again this month.

While the ban is no longer being implemented in front of TV cameras at airports across the country, the data shows that its impact is still extensive – particularly on Iranian nationals. Between December 8, 2017 and March 31, 2019, there were only 1,607 nonimmigrant visas issued to Iranian nationals compared to 18,571 denials under the ban.1 During that same period, 227 immigrant visas were issued to Iranian nationals contrasted to 9,819 denials due to the ban.2

Waivers Remain Low & Visa Refusals Remain High

An alien subject to the Muslim Ban may apply for a waiver but the burden of proof is on the individual to establish that they are eligible for a visa and a waiver. There is no separate application for a waiver — the evidence presented during the consular interview process is what is considered during the waiver determination. Consular officers have wide discretion to make a waiver determination based on three criteria:

    • (A) denying entry would cause the foreign national undue hardship;
    • (B) entry would not pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the United States; and
    • (C) entry would be in the national interest.

Based on the data provided, the waiver process continues to be a sham. Waivers are issued irregularly and in such small numbers seemingly to uphold appearances that this is not a blanket ban fulfilling a bigoted campaign promise.

  • The overall waiver rate for all impacted nationalities as of March 31, 2019 is just 5.1%, according to calculations from the State Department.3
  • Between December 8, 2017 and Oct. 31, 2018, there were 413 waivers to Iranian nationals resulting in 269 visa issuances (immigrant & nonimmigrant).4 According to the latest data, which adds in additional details through the first three months of 2019, 279 nonimmigrant visas and 161 immigrant visa had been issued to Iranian nationals, for a total of 440 waivers dating back to December 8, 2017.5
  • Contrast those paltry waiver numbers to the 28,390 immigrant Iranian visas refused, and the totals continue to be staggering. For every 64 Iranian nationals subject to the ban who have failed to secure a visa, only one is lucky enough to secure a waiver.
  • Many spouses continue to be kept apart as a result of Trump’s ban, a particularly cruel dynamic where each is forced to put their love and lives on hold. Through March 2019, there were only 19 approvals for spousal visas (CR1/IR1) issued to Iranian nationals contrasted to 644 denials.6 That is approximately a 2.9% approval rate for Iranian nationals married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. 
  • Cumulatively, the number of Iranian nationals not subject to the ban who were issued visas over the lifetime of PP 9645 was 2,792, with 125 issuances in February and March. The majority of these were students on F1 or F2 visas. While the approval rate is higher than those subject to the ban, there were still 3,032 Iranian nationals refused dating back to December 8, 2017.7

Muslim Ban Deters Visa Applicants

Without a doubt, a major goal of the Trump administration appears to be to deter individuals from Muslim-majority nations from applying for visas to the United States, which fits the “white nationalist” goals attributed to the President and his allies. Over the course of the ban, the data indicates that far fewer individuals from nations subject to the ban are now applying for visas.

  • In the first three months of 2018, an average of 4,311 Iranian nationals applied for nonimmigrant visas subject to the Muslim ban per month. However, in the first three months of 2019, the average fell to just 558 per month.8
  • The average application rate for B1/B2 visitor visas to the U.S. from countries impacted by the Muslim Ban have fallen over the last year:
    • 3,397 per month for the first six months of 2018;
    • 1,124 per month for the last six months of 2018;
    • 1,068 per month for the first three months of 2019.9

Iranians Still Most Impacted Group, Discriminatory Intent Not in Doubt

Iranians continue to be the most-heavily impacted group by the ban, accounting for 23,495 out of 36,783 nonimmigrant visa applicants subject to the ban and 10,441 out of 23,492 immigrant visa applicants dating back to December 8, 2017. Cumulatively, that is 33,936/69,275 visa applicants subject to the ban. To put it another way, nearly half of all those impacted by the ban are Iranian nationals.
 
While two non-Muslim countries were added to the list of targets of Presidential Proclamation 9645, Venezuela and North Korea, these appear to have been added solely to make the argument that it is not a “Muslim ban.” Zero Venezuelans have been subject to the proclamation, while only 79 North Koreans have attempted to apply for a visa, with 57 North Korean nationals being approved. Contrast the lack of impact of these non-Muslim majority nations to the tens of thousands subject to the ban from Muslim-majority nations. This remains a Muslim ban, as envisioned and in practice.

1 See Table II (a), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf

2  See Table II (c), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf.

3 Administration calculation. See Page 3, https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf.

4  See State Department Correspondence from Feb. 22, Table 1F & 1G, https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/State%20Dept%20Response%20to%20Oct%20Muslim%20Ban%20Letter.pdf.

5 Table III (a) & Table III (b), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf.

6  See Table II (c), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf.

7 See Table II (b), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf.

8 See Table I (b), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf

9 See Table I (a), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf

Memo: A Snapshot of Visas and Waivers Over One Year of the Muslim Ban

Lack of information on the implementation of the Muslim Ban has served as one of the greatest impediments to challenging it. January 27, 2019 marked two years since the Muslim Ban first went into effect as Executive Order 13769. It was repackaged as Executive Order 13780, signed on March 6, 2017, and finally Presidential Proclamation 9645, issued on September 24, 2017. Last week, the State Department finally delivered statistics on the Muslim Ban to Senator Van Hollen thanks to his tireless efforts to seek answers. Below are some key findings based on the statistics released:

Iranians Only Granted Waivers in 1.6% of Cases

  • Between December 8, 2017 and October 31, 2018:
    • 19,163 Iranians rejected under ‘undue hardship’ or ‘national interest’ criteria.
    • 5,978 languished in administrative processing for the national security element of the waiver process.
    • Iranians represent 21,089 out of 31,304 total nonimmigrant visas and 8,545 out of 17,352 total immigrant visas subject to ban during this period.
    • Of those rejected for a waiver for failure to prove undue hardship or national interest criteria, Iranians represent 77% of rejections. 19,163 out of 24,584 total.
    • Only 413 met the conditions for a waiver. This is an abysmally low 1.6%.
    • In other words, for every one Iranian who qualified for a waiver, 46 were rejected.
    • Not all of those who qualified for a waiver received a visa. For every 71 applicants, only 1 Iranian was issued a visa.

Iranian Students Exempted But Still Impacted

  • All Iranian immigrant visa applicants were subject to the ban, however it makes an exception for Iranian nationals under valid student (F and M) and exchange visitor (J) visas. Out of 25,752 Iranian nonimmigrant visa applicants, 21,089 were subject to the Muslim Ban and 4,663 were exempted under F, M, and J visas.
  • However, State Department statistics that are released monthly show that only 2,160 F, M, and J visas were actually issued during this period. Numerous students who previously received visas were unable to renew them and complete their studies. For some perspective, in 2015, there were 4,944 F, M, and J visas issued to Iranian nationals according to the State Department’s annual statistics. This is an approximately 56% drop.

Numbers Reveal that the Ban is Still a Muslim Ban Despite the Addition of Venezuela and North Korea

  • Venezuela was added to Proclamation 9645 (Muslim Ban 3.0) in an embarrassingly transparent effort by the Trump administration to distract from the Islamophobic nature of the ban. However, the Venezuelan ban only applies to B-1/B-2 visas and only to officials of select government agencies such as the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service. Thus the addition of Venezuela was meaningless and the newly released numbers reflect as much:
    • Out of 3,093 Venezuelan immigrant visa applicants and 87,573 nonimmigrant visa applicants not a single one was subject to the ban.
  • Visas are suspended for all North Korean nationals but due to the nature of U.S.-North Korean relations this has only impacted 62 visa applicants compared to tens of thousands from other countries.