((AP Photo/Craig Ruttle))

A new State Department order to revoke visas could have far-reaching effects

The State Department is going much further than President Trump's executive order on immigration


Justin Elliott
February 2, 2017 6:24PM (UTC)

This originally appeared on ProPublica.

ProPublicaThe Trump travel ban could have far wider effects than previously understood for foreigners who waited years as State Department officials reviewed their immigrant visa applications. The new policy, disclosed Tuesday, means that immigrants hoping to join their families in the United States from the affected countries may have to start the lengthy process all over again.

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The policy, laid out in a State Department letter filed in court and previously noted by Politico, has sowed yet more confusion about President Donald Trump's executive order.

While the president's order suspended the entry of all citizens from seven Muslim majority countries for 90 days, the State Department letter appeared to go much further, taking away visas rather than delaying their use.

"I hereby provisionally revoke all valid nonimmigrant and immigrant visas of nationals of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen," states the letter, which was signed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Edward Ramotowski.

It's not clear how many people are affected. In addition to immigrants, students as well as workers in the U.S. with long-term visas may also be impacted by the policy. If they travel and their visas have not been reinstated after the ban, they would have to apply again to come back.

Immigration lawyers interviewed by ProPublica were shocked by the letter.

"It's very, very unusual to do a blanket revocation of everyone's visa," said Susan Cohen, an immigration attorney at Mintz Levin in Boston. "The thing that's particularly distressing about this letter is that it doesn't mirror the executive order."

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Zachary Nightingale, a San Francisco immigration lawyer said: "If all visas are cancelled then in the future everyone who had one will have to reapply. This is different than 2018no one can enter for 90 days.'"

Lawyers around the country are scrambling to get clarification. The confusion centers on what the letter means by the phrase "provisionally revoke."

"Will visas automatically be reinstated? Or do you have to go back to the embassy and re-apply?" asks Denyse Sabagh, the head of the immigration practice at Duane Morris in Washington.

It is not a minor detail. In one case ProPublica reported last week, it took over five years for a young Yemeni girl with U.S. citizen parents to secure an immigrant visa.

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The State Department declined our requests to clarify what "provisionally revoke" means. Instead, a spokesperson offered the following statement:

"At the request of the Department of Homeland Security, and in compliance with the President's Executive Order, the Department of State provisionally revoked relevant visas as defined under the EO.  Those visas are not valid for travel to the U.S. while the Executive Order is in place."

Marcelo Rochabrun contributed reporting to this story.

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Correction, Jan. 31, 2017: This article previously gave the incorrect name for one law firm. It is Mintz Levin, not Mintz Cohen.

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Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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