Visa waivers rarely granted under Trump's latest US travel ban: data

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, March 6 (Reuters) - In the first weeks after President Donald Trump's latest travel ban was implemented on Dec. 8, around 100 waivers were granted to thousands of applicants for U.S. visas from the eight countries subject to its restrictions, according to State Department data provided to Reuters.

Between Dec, 8 and Jan. 8, more than 8,400 people applied for U.S. visas from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Venezuela, the countries listed in the ban.

Of those, 128 applicants qualified for visas because they fell into categories exempted from the ban, according to a letter from the State Department sent last month to U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat. Exemptions to the ban are made for lawful permanent residents of the United States and certain other categories of applicants.

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Reunions, greetings and goodbyes amid immigration ban
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Reunions, greetings and goodbyes amid immigration ban

International travelers are greeted as they arrive at John F. Kennedy international airport in New York City, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Kiki Rahmati, from Iran, cries as lead attorney Susan Church greets her at Logan International Airport in Boston on Feb. 3, 2017. She was initially not allowed to enter the US after President Donald Trump's travel ban.

(Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

A relative of Fuad Sharef, an Iraqi with an immigration visa who was prevented with his family from boarding a flight to New York a week ago, hugs his daughter goodbye in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq February 4, 2017, before going to the airport to fly, on Turkish Airlines, to Nashville, Tennessee, their new home.

(REUTERS/Ahmed Saad)

Behnam Partopour, a Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) student from Iran, is greeted by friends at Logan Airport after he cleared U.S. customs and immigration on an F1 student visa in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. February 3, 2017. Partopour was originally turned away from a flight to the U.S. following U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban.

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Fuad Sharef, an Iraqi with an immigration visa who was prevented with his family from boarding a flight to New York a week ago, kisses his relatives goodbye at his home in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq February 4, 2017, before going to the airport to fly, on Turkish Airlines, to Nashville, Tennessee, his new home.

(REUTERS/Ahmed Saad)

Fuad Sharef, an Iraqi with an immigration visa who was prevented with his family from boarding a flight to New York a week ago, hug his relatives goodbye at Erbil International Airport, Iraq February 4, 2017, to fly, on Turkish Airlines, to Nashville, Tennessee, their new home.

(REUTERS/Ahmed Saad)

Behnam Partopour, a Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) student from Iran, is greeted by his sister Bahar (L) at Logan Airport after he cleared U.S. customs and immigration on an F1 student visa in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. February 3, 2017. Partopour was originally turned away from a flight to the U.S. following U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban.

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Samira Asgari is greeted by a friend after she cleared U.S. customs and immigration in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. February 3, 2017. Asgari is an Iranian scientist who had obtained a visa to conduct research at Brigham and Women's Hospital and was twice prevented from entering the United States under President Trump's executive order travel ban.

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Banah Alhanfy, from Ira, is hugged and handed a rose after arriving at Logan International Airport in Boston on Feb. 3, 2017. Banah was initially not allowed to enter the US after President Donald Trump's travel ban.

(Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Kiki Rahmati, from Iran, hugs someone that met her at Logan International Airport in Boston on Feb. 3, 2017. She was initially not allowed to enter the US after President Donald Trump's travel ban.

(Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Dr. Muhamad Alhaj Moustafa, a Syrian citizen, embraces his wife Nabil Alhaffar, also a Syrian citizen, after she returned from a trip to Doha but was denied re-entry in January, at the international arrivals hall at Washington Dulles International Airport February 6, 2017 in Dulles, Virginia. A US appeals court has rejected a government request to immediately reinstate US President Donald Trump's controversial immigration ban -- the latest twist in what could be a long, high-stakes legal battle.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Salwa Tabiedi greets her son Hussamedin Agabani, a Sudanese citizen who was arriving in the United States for the first time, at the international arrivals hall at Washington Dulles International Airport February 6, 2017 in Dulles, Virginia.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Nazanin Zinouri, an Iranian engineer, is received by supporters at the Greenville Spartanburg Airport February 6, 2017 in Greenville, South Carolina. Zinouri, a Clemson graduate, works for a technology firm in Greenville, South Carolina and has lived in the United States for the last seven years. While attempting to return to South Carolina after a recent trip visiting family in Iran, she had been taken off her flight in Dubai as a result of the recent travel and immigration ban ordered by President Donald Trump.

(Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Shanez Tabarsi (L) is greeted by her daughter Negin after traveling to the U.S. from Iran following a federal court's temporary stay of U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. February 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Ali Alghazali, 13, a Yemeni who was previously prevented from boarding a plane to the U.S. following U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order on travel ban, hugs his uncle Saleh Alghazali, upon Ali's arrival at Terminal 4 at JFK airport in Queens, New York City, New York, U.S. February 5, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joe Penney)

Najmia Abdishakur (R), a Somali national who was delayed entry to the U.S. because of the recent travel ban, is greeted by her mother Zahra Warsma (L) at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, U.S. February 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mustafa Aidid (center R), a Somali national who was delayed entry into the U.S. because of the recent travel ban, is reunited with his brother Taha Aidid (center L) at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, U.S. February 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Ammar Aquel Mohammed Aziz (R), hugs his father Aquel (2nd R), as his brother Tareq (L) hugs his uncle Jamil Assa (2nd L) after the brothers arrived from Yemen at Dulles International airport on February 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. The brothers were prohibited from entering the U.S. a week ago due to tightened immigration policies established by the Trump administration, but were able to travel freely this week following a court injunction halting the implementation of the immigration policy.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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The ban contains a provision that those who do not qualify for exceptions can be considered for waivers in special circumstances, such as a need for urgent medical care or to accommodate adoptions. Waivers can also be granted to those previously granted visas who want to return to employment or studies in the United States. Significant business obligations or close U.S. family ties can also be taken into consideration for a waiver.

As of Feb. 15 only two of the initial month’s applicants had been approved for the waivers, according to the letter, which was seen by Reuters. Since then, more than 100 additional waivers have been granted, the State Department told Reuters on Tuesday. It was not clear how many of those additional waivers went to applicants from the initial month.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the issue. A State Department official said the policy is being implemented as called for in the president's proclamation.

Van Hollen, along with Republican Senator Jeff Flake requested information about visas from the State Department in late January, saying in a letter to the agency and the Department of Homeland Security that they had "received reports of the near uniform denial of waivers for visas."

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Trump advocates show support for travel ban
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Trump advocates show support for travel ban

Demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

Pro-Trump demonstrators yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ted Soqui
A counter demonstrator holds a sign up as protesters gather in Battery Park and march to the offices of Customs and Border Patrol in Manhattan to protest President Trump's Executive order imposing controls on travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, January 29, 2017 in New York. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators watch from an overpass as a counter-protester holds a sign outside Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order blocking visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Court decisions temporarily blocked the U.S. administration from enforcing parts of Trump's order after a day in which students, refugees and dual citizens were stuck overseas or detained and some businesses warned employees from those countries not to risk leaving the United States. Photographer: Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A counter-protester, right, holds a sign and chants in front of other demonstrators outside Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) protesting against U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order blocking visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Court decisions temporarily blocked the U.S. administration from enforcing parts of Trump's order after a day in which students, refugees and dual citizens were stuck overseas or detained and some businesses warned employees from those countries not to risk leaving the United States. Photographer: Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

Demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

Demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

A demonstrator in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rallies at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

Police officers stand guard as demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

Demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

Trump supporters demonstrate against a ruling by a federal judge in Seattle that grants a nationwide temporary restraining order against the presidential order to ban travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries, at Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on February 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Arriving international travelers pass through a line of Trump supporters demonstrating against a ruling by a federal judge in Seattle that grants a nationwide temporary restraining order against the presidential order to ban travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries, at Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on February 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Trump supporters argue with a man (R) who supports a ruling by a federal judge in Seattle that grants a nationwide temporary restraining order against the presidential order to ban travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries, at Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on February 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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"The Trump administration claims that the waiver system can be used by people who pose no threat to our country.... But these facts show that system is a farce designed to hide President Trump's true purpose," Van Hollen said in a statement to Reuters on Tuesday. "Appellate courts have found that this is a de facto Muslim ban in violation of our Constitution and our immigration laws, and this high refusal rate bears that out."

Six of the eight countries included in the ban are majority Muslim. The Trump administration has said the travel ban is needed to protect U.S. residents from terrorism.

Courts struck down the first two versions of the Republican president's travel ban, and the current one is narrower in scope than its predecessors. The Supreme Court will consider its legality this spring, and a decision is expected in June.

Many visa applications from the eight countries were denied even before the travel ban. And since it took effect, more than 1,700 of the 8,400 visa applications were denied for reasons other than the travel ban, according to the State Department's data.

Exact comparisons with previous years are not possible, because data is not available for all types of visa applications. But for the 2016 federal fiscal year, State Department data shows that applicants from the eight countries were refused tourist and business visas, called B visas, at rates of between 15 percent and 64 percent, depending on the country. North Koreans had the lowest rate of denials, while Somalis had the highest. In the first month after the travel ban took effect, more than 95 percent of U.S. visa applications from the countries were denied.

Attorneys representing applicants abroad who were turned down for visas say consular officials have not clearly explained why their clients did not qualify for waivers.

"There is a feeling of extreme frustration. People are operating basically in the blind," said Diala Shamas, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based nonprofit group that assists Yemeni applicants waiting for visas at the U.S. embassy in Djibouti. "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."

Trump's proclamation of a travel ban outlined three broad requirements for a visa waiver. Applicants must face undue hardship if denied a visa, the travel must be in the U.S. interest and the applicant must not pose a security risk.

For an applicant to be cleared of being a security threat, consular officers are told to consider "the information-sharing and identity-management protocols of the applicant's country of nationality as they relate to the applicant," according to the letter.

That last consideration could prove complicated for most applicants, given that the reason a country winds up on the banned list is that it does not meet U.S. standards for information sharing and identity management.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington and Mica Rosenberg in New York; additional reporting by Grant Smith; editing by Sue Horton, Lisa Shumaker and Jonathan Oatis)

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