US says visa applicants denied by Trump ‘Muslim ban’ can reapply

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Rights groups condemn decision to not extend this policy to diversity visa applicants, saying Biden ‘cemented Trump’s legacy of harm’

President Joe Biden overturned Trump’s travel ban on 20 January, his first day in office (AFP)

Most US visa applicants who were denied because of former President Donald Trump’s travel ban on 13 mostly Muslim-majority and African countries can now seek new decisions or submit new applications, the State Department has said.

The department said on Monday that those who received a final refusal on their visa application on or after 20 January 2020 “could seek re-adjudication without resubmitting their application forms or paying any additional fees, provided the underlying visa petitions remain valid”.

Those who were denied before that date can also be considered again, although they would have to reapply and pay a new application fee.

The move comes as part of a 45-day review issued by US President Joe Biden on his first day in office, in which the president ordered the State Department to provide a report that includes a proposal of what to do for individuals whose visa applications were denied due to Trump’s travel bans.

Still, applicants selected in the diversity visa lottery prior to the current fiscal year are barred by US law from being issued visas if they have not gotten them already, the statement said, a move that has been condemned by rights and immigration groups.

The diversity lottery aims to accept immigrants from countries that are not normally awarded many visas.

Biden overturned Trump’s travel ban, referred to as the Muslim Ban by rights groups, on 20 January, his first day in office, calling it “a stain on our national conscience” in his proclamation.

Implemented in 2017 during Trump’s first week in office, the Muslim Ban initially restricted travel from seven Muslim-majority nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The ban faced several legal challenges, but the Supreme Court in 2018 upheld the final version of the measure, which covered 13 mostly Muslim-majority countries, ruling in favour of Trump’s executive power to control immigration.

‘Cementing Trump’s legacy of harm’

More than 40,000 people had been barred from entering the US due to their country of origin since 2017, according to a 2019 report by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Tuesday’s news was welcomed by rights and immigration groups. However, calls were made to fast-track the applications for those affected by the travel ban.

“Although we welcome the Biden administration’s affirmation that Muslim and Africa Bans were bigoted, discriminatory and unacceptable policies, the administration must do more to undo the damage these policies caused to thousands of students, workers and families — both here and abroad,” Robert McCaw, government affairs director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement.

‘Instead of restoring this opportunity, President Biden just dusted off Trump’s ‘CLOSED’ sign and locked the door behind him’

– Manar Waheed, ACLU

“‘Start over’ is not a solution. The thousands of immigrants whose visa applications were unjustly denied because of the Muslim Ban should receive both fast-tracked reconsideration and a waiver of the application fees they have already paid.”

Rights groups also criticised the decision by the Biden administration to “lock the door” on diversity visa applicants by denying them the opportunity to receive their visas that were denied to Trump’s ban.

“The opportunity to ‘win’ a diversity visa is a rare and life-changing opportunity that was snatched away from thousands of people because of President Trump’s hatred and discrimination,” said Manar Waheed, senior legislative and advocacy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“Instead of restoring this opportunity, President Biden just dusted off Trump’s ‘CLOSED’ sign and locked the door behind him.”

Waheed said the decision threatens to prevent thousands of immigrants from entering the US because of the Trump-era travel restrictions.

“Although Biden made the Muslim ban recession a day one priority, that alone is not enough. Today, he cemented Trump’s legacy of harm,” she said.

McCaw also hit out at the decision, saying that the administration must “do more for Diversity Visa application winners who were not issued visas due to the Muslim and African Bans”.

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