UPDATE February 5, 2017: A federal judge blocked President Trump’s immigration ban on Friday. The US federal appeals court then further rejected the President’s request to reinstate it. For the moment, the ban is suspended and the US immigration processes will continue as they did before President Trump issued his executive order. However, the White House will continue fighting this week to reinstate the ban. I will update this article as further information becomes available.
Let’s get one thing out of the way – this is NOT a political post.
And yes, I know when someone says something isn’t political it normally turns out being political.
But in all sincerity I did not write this post to project my personal views on the controversial immigration ban dominating the headlines. If executed correctly, you shouldn’t be able to tell my leanings one way or the other. At least that’s the intent.
So Why Write About It At All Then?
I struggled with whether or not to broach this subject with you guys all weekend.
Deciding at first to publicly ignore it, I went on with business as usual and posted an article on the wonderful town of Hudson, finished the final edits on this month’s newsletter, and shared my latest #notyouraveragetravelquote on Facebook. Feeling accomplished, I reviewed my work only to find it sounded happy and upbeat compared to the rest of Facebook, the local news, the travel forums I’m part of, and the floods of emails from my own readers – all concerned with what President Trump’s new restrictions meant for travelers.
Trapped within the confines of the soundproof bubble I blew around them, my weekend blog postings felt out of touch with the real world. Is that so bad though?, I mused. People like fluff. It offers a respite from the negativity heard ’round the internet. I stuck with these thoughts for most of Saturday and Sunday.
Until questions like the below started coming in:
- From one of my regular blog readers: “I’m travelling to NYC (and my first time in the states) in a couple of months and I’m honestly more worried about being there than excited, it’s such a scary time.”
- From a girl in a female solo travel group I’m in: “Does this ban apply to South Africans as well? I see a few African countries mentioned?”
- From another blog reader of mine: “I’m too scared to travel anywhere this year. I fear if I leave I’ll never be able to return.”
- From one of my travel forums in regards to Americans currently abroad: “Just say you’re Canadian.”
It’s easy to brush off a few of these concerns – but these types of comments were coming in droves.
As much as I wanted to stay out of it, I realized as a travel writer I have a responsibility to my concerned readers to address the travel implications of what’s going on in my own country of America. As much as people try to deny it, politics and travel often intertwine and it is important to discuss how one affects the other.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m taking a middle-of-the-road approach and am offering up facts over personal opinion. This article strictly deals with how the immigration ban affects travel for both Americans and visitors.
What Exactly Does President Trump’s Immigration Ban Entail?
On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order banning nationals from 7 Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. He also barred Syrian refugees from entering. Before we get into what exactly this means, I think it’s important to understand what an executive order actual is.
What is an Executive Order?
The Boston Globe did an excellent write-up explaining just that. You can read it here.
- As the President oversees federal agencies, he often uses executive orders to formally express his priorities on how best to use the federal government’s resources and power.
- It is not unusual for a new president to issue several executive orders within days of being sworn in. In comparison, Obama issued 9 executive orders within his first 10 days of office.
- Executive orders are legally binding but they are also subject to review by the courts.
- Executive orders cannot be used to create laws or allocate new funding.
What Does President Trump’s Executive Order on the Immigration Ban Entail?
- Nationals (or those with dual nationalities) from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen are barred from traveling to the US for 90 days and cannot be issued an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. There is an exception for those who have green cards or hold 1 of 5 different visas for official bodies (eg – the United Nations).
- The US Refugee Admissions Program has been suspended for 120 days. This was done to allow time for government agencies to review the USA’s current vetting process and to then develop an improved vetting system for refugees.
- The Syrian refugee program has been suspended indefinitely.
- 2017 will see an introduction of a 50,000 cap on refugees and priority will be given to religious minorities facing persecution in their countries.
- A suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program, which allows consular officers to exempt some applicants from face-to-face interviews if they are seeking to renew their temporary visas.
- Exceptions to the above could be permitted on a case-by-case basis.
There was confusion over the weekend as officials struggled to interpret and implement the rules of the new executive order – especially in regards to legal US residents holding a green card. Reportedly, 109 were held for questioning and detained at airports around the country. However, a senior Department of Homeland Security official has stated that no green card holder had been denied entry as of Sunday evening.
What Affect Does the Ban Have on American Travelers Both at Home and Abroad?
The above ban has been met with both disdain and support. For some, it alleviates fears of terrorist attacks on American soil while others feel its a violation of human rights. Some believe the ban is discriminatory against Muslims while the flip-side argues over 40 Muslim-majority countries (eg Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India, Nigeria, etc.) were left off the ban. I could go on and on about the rest of the controversies surrounding this executive order – and yes I do have a very strong personal opinion about the ban – but as I stated earlier I want to publicly discuss this only as it pertains to travel.
How Do These New Rules Affect Travelers Not From One of the 7-Banned Countries?
I’m going to try my best to answer all the questions, comments, and concerns I’ve been receiving. Some may seem silly to seasoned travelers but all the ones I’m including have been expressed to me MULTIPLE times since Saturday morning. Please read these without judgement towards the person(s) asking the question/making these comments.
1. Iran is taking steps to ban Americans from traveling to Iran.
A Foreign Ministry statement from Iran read,”While respecting the American people and distinguishing between them and the hostile policies of the U.S. government, Iran will implement the principle of reciprocity until the offensive U.S. limitations against Iranian nationals are lifted.” This includes family and friends of an estimated one million Iranian-Americans, as well as many non-Iranian American citizens wishing to visit the country on vacation.
“But no American would visit Iran anyway,” is a sentiment I’ve seen splashed over the internet. Frankly, it’s just not true. 2016 saw Iran emerge as a hot tourist destination for Westerners; in part because Iran extended tourist visas from 2 weeks to 3 months after the nuclear deal was struck. The country’s tourism sector boomed. After visiting the Middle East for the first time this past April, I shortlisted Iran for my next journey to the region. I also have 2 friends who are cancelling their trip to Tehran due to the new restrictions so it’s incorrect to say this will not have an affect on non-Iranian Americans.
Iraq is also undertaking measures to ban Americans. I will update this section with further information as and when it becomes available.
2. I’m Australian. Can I Visit the US Due to the Suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program?
On Friday, an erroneous tweet was sent out and then picked up by several Australian news sources. It claimed the Visa Wavier Program had been suspended which would affect 38 participating countries including the likes of France, Chile, Iceland, and Australia. The Visa Wavier Program allows citizens from these countries to travel to the US for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. THIS INFO WAS WRONG AND THE PROGRAM IS STILL IN PLACE – nothing has changed in regards to the Visa Wavier Program.
What has been changed with President Trump’s executive order is the Visa Interview Wavier Program. This program allowed citizens who met certain requirements to renew their current visa without having an in-person interview with a U.S. consular officer. This has currently been suspended until further notice. If you’re from one of these countries and wish to renew your visa, please contact your local embassy for up-to-date information.
3. If I’m an American Traveling Abroad, Will I Have Trouble Getting Back Into the Country?
This was the number one question I was asked by readers.
If you are an American citizen holding a US passport, you will be completely fine upon returning to the US so long as you are not entering in from (or are a dual citizen of) one of the 7 banned countries. Again, those countries included in the ban are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
If you are from one of these countries and have a green card, theoretically you should be fine now. Late on Sunday (Jan 29), the Department of Homeland Security said green card holders would be admitted, subject to additional security checks if needed and on Monday, a senior U.S. official said all green card holders questioned at ports of entry in the wake of the order were ultimately admitted to the United States on Sunday night (via Reuters). It is worth keeping an eye on further developments over the coming days.
UPDATE 2/2/2017 – The White House has issued new guidance for green card holders from one of the 7 countries included in the ban:
“…clarifying that legal permanent residents, or green card holders, do not require a waiver to enter the United States…Initially, administration officials said such permanent legal residents were barred from entry under the executive order, although they could apply for a waiver and be rescreened…..Spicer told the news briefing. “In the sake of efficiency, we have interpreted the guidance to all of these agencies … that that does not apply, they no longer need a waiver.”
“What if I hold a US green card but am from Tunisia? Should I cancel my trip there? Could Tunisia eventually wind-up on the banned-list?” – I received this email last night. As of now, as long as you are not planning to visit one of the 7 countries currently on the banned list during your overseas trip, you should be let back into the US without incident. I know there are fears President Trump could add more countries to the ban list but there is no way of actually knowing if he will do this (or which countries would be included). If you’re a green card carrying immigrant with serious concerns about this, my best advice would be to speak with your immigration attorney.
4. Will the Airport Protests in the US Affect My Flight and Other Travel Arrangements?
A wave of airport protests (mostly peaceful demonstrations) took place in the US over the weekend and caused some flight delays and other disruptions.
Traffic was cut off to a busy terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. I had a friend get caught in this traffic but she was able to still catch her plane in time.
Taxi drivers went on strike causing travelers to find alternative routes to and from various airports around the country. Uber was a popular choice as they dropped their surge-pricing during this time on rides to/from JFK airport. Though on the flip-side, many people dropped Uber in favor for Lyft as they donated $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union who were working to help detained immigrants.
For the time being, US airport protests (and taxi strikes) have quieted down with the release of all detainees. However, it is worth keeping an eye on current events and happenings in any US city you plan to travel to in the near future. Especially to large urban cities like NYC, Chicago, Portland, LA, Philadelphia, Detroit, etc. Social media is always a good source for live, in-the-moment information.
If you have any up-to-date links or information on live or future planned airport protests, please send them my way and I will link them here so readers can have a heads up.
In the meantime, I would suggest giving yourself some extra time to get to the airport as a precaution if you’re traveling in the US.
5. If You’re a Foreigner, Why Not Just Boycott Travel to the US Altogether?
This comment flew around my travel groups and forums – most coming from Australians and Europeans.
I was deeply bothered by this for many reasons.
For starters, America is a large and diverse country and politics here are extremely complex. In terms of population, the United States is the world’s third largest with approximately 320 million people. Because of this our country’s political and governmental views will always be divisive.
I was raised in a small Republican town in the South before making the move to Democratic New York City in my 20’s. I’ve remained loosely-based in NYC while traveling the world to sample other cultures and ways of life and currently find that I now don’t necessarily associate myself with either political party. I’m in agreement with certain Republican views as well as with certain Democratic views. I have voted for Democratic candidates as well as for Republican candidates in previous elections.
It’s not hard for me to see why people voted for Donald Trump and neither is it hard for me to see why others did not. I’ve experienced both sides firsthand and know the issues small southern towns find important (and more importantly – why they find these important) and I’m aware of the ones big city dwellers find important. Oftentimes the economic and social situations affecting these two populations are drastically different from one another.
At the end of the day every American voted for the candidate they thought would best improve their lives, the lives of their families, and their country. Whether or not you agree with their choice shouldn’t matter. What does matter is that honest, everyday American citizens should not be punished for hoping for a better future for their country – whether they voted for Clinton, Trump, or a 3rd Party.
Not everyone in the country voted or supported Trump. He lost the popular vote which means the majority of Americans did not vote for him (I told you US politics are complex!). By boycotting the US solely based on the fact you disagree with the policies of their President, then you are also boycotting and punishing the tens of millions of people who did not vote from Trump.
How could a travel boycott damage the average US citizen?
Millions of US citizens work in the Travel and Tourism industry:
“The U.S. travel and tourism industry generated nearly $1.6 trillion in economic output in 2015, supporting 7.6 million U.S. jobs. Travel and tourism exports accounted for 11 percent of all U.S. exports and nearly a third (33 percent) of all U.S. services exports, positioning travel and tourism as America’s largest services export. One out of every 18 Americans is employed, either directly or indirectly, in a travel or tourism-related industry. In 2015, U.S. travel and tourism output represented 2.6 percent of gross domestic product.” – via SelectUSA.gov
A mass boycott on US tourism could cause millions of people to lose jobs.
Boycotting travel to the US is hypocritical. I once saw a quote somewhere that said, “If we only ever venture to places where the politicians were to our liking, we will never cross our own doorsteps.”
If you boycott one country because you don’t like their governmental policies, then on principal shouldn’t you boycott ALL countries with corrupt governments or any others you politically disagree with? If so, say goodbye to the beautiful beaches of Mexico; forget the pyramids of Egypt; might as well cross off most of Central America; buh-bye Communist China, Vietnam, and Cuba; anyone else remember the burqa ban in France?
As travelers we should be open-minded. Visiting any country during a time of unrest is often when you get to know its people (and their values) best. Visit the US and really speak to the American people. Ask for their opinion on the election. Inquire as to why they did or did not vote for Trump. Try to understand where they are coming from whether you agree or disagree. I swear you’ll walk away with an entirely different perspective.
I love this article by Rick Steves: 10 Tips for Traveling as a Political Act. This exemplifies the type of traveler I strive to be.
6. Should I Be Afraid to Travel Abroad as an American During a Trump Presidency?
I’m not exactly sure how best to answer this question one of my readers emailed to me.
I needed further clarification as to what exactly she meant so – in one of my large travel forums – I asked why Americans felt concerned for their safety. The responses I received mainly had to deal with the fact most believe many foreign nations oppose President Trump’s immigration policy. They’re worried this means Americans will be targeted and be in danger when visiting other countries.
To be honest – I just don’t believe this will happen. So much so that I’m leaving in less than two weeks for 2 months of travel (including to Mexico – a place where a lot of citizens dislike Trump) and I don’t even feel the slightest ounce of trepidation.
This is not the first time our nation has elected a controversial President and it’s also not the first time a leader of ours has passed an internationally unpopular executive order (I use the word “international” because despite the highly publicized US protests, half of American citizens SUPPORT the immigration ban).
Many countries recognize that a government does not define its people and will welcome Americans with open arms – whether you’re a Trump supporter or not. I’ve never felt discriminated against as an American – even when traveling through the Middle East.
Having said this I do think all travelers – American or not – should take normal precautions when on the road. Bad things can happen anywhere but the likelihood of someone hurting you simply because you’re American and they don’t agree with Trump, is very slim. I was abroad in Europe for most of 2016 while Trump was campaigning and I wasn’t treated any differently than the previous year. The only thing I found that changed was that people (especially in the UK) were more curious about what my thoughts were on the current American political climate. I would discuss it depending on my mood. The few times I told someone I didn’t feel like talking politics, they backed off.
I’ve reached out to a few trusted travelers I know who are currently abroad and asked if they’ve been treated any different since Trump was sworn in as I haven’t left the country since Trump officially took office this month. I’ll add their comments to this section as and when I receive them. I’ll also add my own two cents once I start my Central America and European travels in a couple weeks.
7. When Abroad Just Tell People You’re Canadian.
Warning – my opinion is about to get very strong on this one.
I think pretending you are Canadian is the absolute worst thing you could do. Ever. I’m shocked by the sheer number of people who were suggesting this to Americans traveling abroad.
First off, it’s offensive to actual Canadians.
Second, lying sets a terrible precedence. We should never pretend to be someone we’re not. There are many countries with controversial government policies. Should we tell them to lie about where they’re from as well?
I for one am proud to call myself an American and believe in leading by example. I urge you to travel and let people know loud and proud that you’re American. Extend nothing but kindness and acceptance to the people you meet along the way and this will speak volumes as to the nature of the American people.
If you have any further questions about how this ban affects travel, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be updating this post frequently as new questions/comments and information comes in.
I welcome any and all discussion on this blog but due to the politics surrounding this post, I do ask for everyone to be respectful in the comments below. It’s okay to disagree but please do so in a civil and constructive manner. Thanks!
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