The latest travel ban put forward by the Trump administration went into effect on December 8 and includes eight countries, most of which are majority Muslim. It also includes an onerous process to obtain a waiver, which ultimately comes down to whether or not the Departments of State and Homeland Security think you should be allowed into the country, for reasons that you may have no control over.
Surprise: they’re not granting the waivers.
According to a February 22 State Department letter sent to Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and obtained by Reuters, 8,406 people from the countries listed in the ban — Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela and Somalia — applied for waivers between December 8 and January 8, the first month the ban was in effect. 6,282 applicants were rejected for not meeting the criteria, while 1,723 were “refused for reasons unrelated to the proclamation,” and another 271 were rejected under the executive order “with waiver consideration.”
This is the process you need to go through to obtain a waiver, according to the State Department letter (emphasis ours):
First, to satisfy the undue hardship criterion, the applicant must demonstrate to the consular officer’s satisfaction that an unusual situation exists that compels immediate travel by the applicant and that delaying visa issuance and the associated travel plans would defeat the purpose of travel. Second, the applicant’s travel may be considered in the national interest if the applicant demonstrates to the consular officer’s satisfaction that a U.S. person or entity would suffer hardship if the applicant could not travel until after visa restrictions imposed with respect to nationals of that country are lifted.
Finally, to establish that the applicant does not constitute a threat to national security or public safety, the consular officer considers the information-sharing and identity-management protocols and practices of the government of the applicant’s country of nationality as they relate to the applicant. If the consular officer determines, after consultation with the Visa Office, that an applicant does not pose a threat to national security or public safety and the other two requirements have been met, a visa may be issued with the concurrence of a consular manager.
Shockingly, only 128 people who applied were judged to qualify for the waiver. But as of February 15, just two applications had been approved.
Reuters reports that in the weeks since February 15, “more than 100” more waivers had been approved, although it’s not clear whether these new visas are coming from applicants in the first month, or how many have applied in the two months since January 8.
“There is a feeling of extreme frustration,” Diala Shamas, a staff attorney at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, told Reuters. “People are operating basically in the blind. An outsider might think that the impact of the proclamation would be mitigated by the waivers, but in reality that is not at all the case.”
This, of course, is the point. By making the process such a pain in the ass and then denying even those who qualify, the message it sends to people from the countries affected (even those Trump claims to care so much about that he’s willing to interfere in their elections) is simple: don’t even bother.