Advice for Postdocs Who are Foreign Nationals


Executive Order Affecting Travel: A travel ban on persons from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen was announced through an Executive Order issued by the President Trump at the end of January. The travel ban has been temporarily suspended by a US District Court Judge in Seattle, Washington, but the Administration plans to appeal the order. At this time no one knows what the legal outcome will be; for this reason, we advise members who are affected by the ban and who are currently legally in the USA to proceed as if the ban is in effect since we don’t know whether the injunction will be upheld. (Note, if an affected person is abroad, they would be advised to make plans ASAP to return while the injunction remains in place)

The travel ban would prevent all nonimmigrant visa holders from the seven countries listed from entering the USA for at least four months. The new Administration plans to develop and implement new additional security procedures before any visas or other immigration benefits will be issued. It is also possible that the travel ban will be extended at least for some countries unless it is held invalid by a Federal Court; it is also possible that additional countries may be added to the ban.

As of February 3, 2017, approximately 60,000 (or more) visas have been “provisionally” revoked by the U.S. Department of State; if the Washington District Court Order is upheld and the travel ban is lifted, a “provisionally” revoked visa may be used to enter the USA assuming the visa is unexpired, has not been cancelled in the passport, and there is not another valid reason for revocation such as fraud or a criminal conviction. For those persons in the USA with provisionally revoked visas, even if a visa is revoked or has expired, the authorized period of stay which is stated on your I-94 is not affected. Thus, you may remain in the USA as long as your status has not expired, even if the visa in your passport has expired or revoked.

Persons exempted from the ban are: Iraqi nationals with valid Special Immigrant Visas, Dual Nationals whose visas are in passports from third countries, and Legal Permanent Residents. However, although exempted, we understand many people are experiencing long interrogations by CBP (US Customs and Border Protection) at the airports and other ports of entry.

Note: Persons who are dual citizens of one of the seven countries and of a third country which is not covered by the ban should be permitted to enter the USA if in possession of a valid nonimmigrant visa in the “non-banned” passport.

Immigrants from the seven countries who have not yet entered the USA, but who have a valid immigrant visa in their passports may not be permitted to enter. Some Green Card holders (legal permanent residents) have been asked to relinquish Green Cards at ports of entry. If a permanent resident is confronted with this demand they should not relinquish their Green Card and should immediately contact an attorney if possible. Legal permanent residents have a right to a hearing before an immigration judge and the CBP does not have authority to terminate their residence.

A person from one of the seven countries who has a Global Entry or Trusted Traveler card, but is a dual national of one of the countries and a third country may have their global entry privileges revoked.

Regardless of where you are from, if you are in the United States in F-1, J-1, or H-1B status pursuant to a valid, previously issued visa, the best advice is probably to avoid travel abroad at the present time. Until any new rules become very clear and are being implemented in a uniform predictable manner, we are advised by immigration counsel it is best for Postdocs not to travel unless you really do not have a choice. If you are from one of the seven countries and you leave, there is a strong possibility you will not be readmitted, depending upon what happens with the pending federal court lawsuits. Be prepared to wait outside of the USA even if you are not from one of the seven countries if you need to apply for a new visa. In light of the current chaos, it is likely that all visa issuance could be delayed. If you do decide to travel abroad, it is advisable to check in with the International Office at your school as well as an immigration attorney who is knowledgeable about visa issuance before you depart.

Note: If you are not from one of the seven countries and you must travel, and your visa has not expired and will not expire before you re-enter the United States, it is probably OK to travel abroad as long as you have some flexibility. Allow for delays; it would be best not to book a domestic flight too close to your entry from abroad unless you have already cleared customs in a Preflight Inspection procedure abroad.

Finally, we advise all members, including U.S. citizens and permanent residents to be prepared for interrogation and increased scrutiny at US airports, especially if they are either dual nationals or recently traveled to one of the seven countries. Questions might include querys about your parents’ citizenship, siblings, your immigration history, your marital status, your residences, and your employment in the U.S. and/or abroad. If you have traveled to any of the 7 countries since March 2011, you may be questioned closely about the purpose of your trip. Even in secondary inspection, you may request an interpreter if you are not completely fluent in English; it is extremely important you understand the questions and that the officer understands your answers.

Also, be advised that if you are sent to secondary inspection at a US port of entry, CBP may inspect your mobile phone, laptop, and/or other electronic devices. A search may include screening social media accounts, text messages, email, etc. Although there are supposed to be legal limits on searches, CBP has been known to confiscate computers and may try to claim that holders of passports from the 7 listed countries automatically present a reason for suspicion of inadmissibility under security-related grounds.

H-1B’s: If you are an H-1B temporary worker, or plan to apply for H-1B status, be advised that the Congress and the Administration are considering changes to the H-1B process to make it “more efficient and ensure that beneficiaries of the program are the best and the brightest”. Minimum salaries to qualify for status may be raised. One proposed executive order which has not yet been issued requires that the President be provided with a report of the “actual or potential injury to U.S. workers caused, directly or indirectly, by work performed by nonimmigrant workers in the H-1B, L-1, and B-1 visa categories” within nine months of the signing of the (as yet unsigned) Executive Order. We think it is unlikely that most Postdocs and graduate students will be affected by this order even if it is signed, but many employees of US companies, especially employees who possess only Bachelor’s degrees, are likely to be affected if the legislation is passed and/or an executive order is actually issued.