Everything We Know About How Trump's Visa Ban Might Affect Australians
visa ban

Everything We Know About How Trump's Visa Ban Might Affect Australians

Malcolm Turnbull announced Tuesday morning that Australians are now exempt from the ban.
January 30, 2017, 3:30pm

US President Donald Trump's executive order barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US threw airports into chaos over the weekend—with some travellers detained for hours after flying into America, and others stranded en route. The order, signed by Trump on 27 January, does a couple of things: first it bars citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the US for 90 days. Refugee admissions to the US will also be halted for 120 days, and Syrians refugees are barred indefinitely. Early estimates suggest some 134 million people may be affected by the new rules.

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However, there was little clarity around whether dual citizens and residents would be affected by the ban. Prominent migration lawyers VICE spoke with voiced concerns that Australians holding passports for Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen may be barred from entering the US for the next three months. Although a US federal court judge issued a stay against the order over the weekend, there are reports that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is pressing on with extensive "secondary screenings" of travellers coming into the US. During these interviews, some travellers say they've been denied a phone call, and have had their social media accounts checked by officers.

Australia Has Won a UK-Style Exemption to the Ban

Sonia Caton, a lecturer at the ANU College of Law's migration law program, pointed VICE to the clarification issued by the UK's foreign office, which grants British dual citizens an exemption from the ban. "The Presidential executive order only applies to individuals travelling from one of the seven named countries," UK foreign minister Boris Johnson said in a statement. "If you are travelling to the US from anywhere other than one of those countries (for instance, the UK) the executive order does not apply to you and you will experience no extra checks regardless of your nationality or your place of birth."

On Tuesday, it was announced Australian diplomats had secured a similar deal for Australian citizens. If you are a dual citizen—holding passports for one of the seven banned countries—you will "be able to travel normally" Prime Minister Turnbull told Sky News.

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Despite seeking an exemption from the ban, the Australian Government has failed to criticise the executive order. Foreign minister Julie Bishop initially expressed support for America's "strong immigration and border protection policies," while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters on Monday that "it is not my job, as Prime Minister of Australia, to run a commentary on the domestic policies of other countries… we have, here, in Australia, border security arrangements which are the envy of the world."

If You Choose to Travel, Be Prepared

It appears most Australian citizens should not be affected by the ban, as there have been no changes to the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa waiver program, which grants Australians entry in the US for 90 days. However, if you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since 1 March 2011—regardless of whether you're an Australian citizen—you will need to apply for a visa. This change came into place before Trump's executive order, but it's important to note in the wake of it.

"The situation is so fluid, it really is a case of waiting for further clarification," Sonia Caton told VICE. "If [a clarification for Australia] does come and is in terms similar to that issued by the UK, you'd best print [a copy of the DFAT release] out and carry it with you… in case things become difficult upon arrival." With the situation changing so rapidly, immigration officials on the ground at US airports may not have the most up-to-date information about who is being allowed in, and who is not.

"When you have a huge change in operations made in this manner, with no warning or transition period, it is completely predictable that chaos will reign, especially as it seems that no instructions have been issued on the exercise of wide ranging discretions within the Order," Caton says. "In such circumstances it likely that decision making will be inconsistent as decision makers at all points of entry, in Consulates etc, will probably be receiving rolling instructions as to how the Executive Order is to be interpreted."

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Caton suggests getting in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been fighting both the executive order and the detention of specific individuals at US airports. The ACLU should be able to give you the contact details of a migration lawyer at the airport you'll be flying into. However, it's not clear whether detainees at all airports are being granted access to lawyers.

Green Card Holders Should Be Exempt From the Ban

A Green Card gives holders the right to work and live in the US for 10 years at a time. It's not citizenship—holders can't vote in elections, or serve on juries—but they do pay taxes. It's equivalent to getting permanent residency in Australia. On Monday, DHS secretary John Kelly "deemed the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest… absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating serious threat to public safety and welfare, will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations." Essentially, Green Card holders should not be affected by the ban, but may still be subjected to interviews at US airports upon arrival.

The implications for some Green Card holders have been extreme in the wake of Trump's ban though. Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center's Immigrant Advocacy Program, told Slate two of his clients were denied entry to the US, and sent to Addis Ababa, despite the fact they both held Green Cards. The Aziz brothers, 19 and 21 years old respectively, were allegedly handcuffed at Dulles International Airport during questioning. They were also made to sign a form called an I-407, which immigration attorneys are warning Green Card holders not to sign. This form is called a "Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status," and it means you are voluntarily surrendering your residency in the US.

Some Airlines Are Offering Refunds if You're Affected

Qantas, which offers flights from Australia into Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, and New York, has said it will offer refunds to anyone caught up in the immigration freeze. "Passengers booked on Qantas for travel to the United States who use a passport from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Libya have a number of options, including a change to their destination or a refund," the airline said in a statement.

On Tuesday, a representative from Virgin Australia told VICE the carrier will also be "offering customers affected by the immigration changes in the United States a range of options, including a refund or Travel Bank credit, change of destination or fee-free changes to their departure date." VICE is seeking clarification from other airlines.

With additional reporting by Monique Myntoo. Follow Maddison on Twitter