On Friday January 27, 2017, United States President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”
The text of the order stops the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely and further bans entry of all citizens from seven countries including Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The refugee ban does not state a time limit.
The ban on visa issuance will be in effect for 90 days after which the list will be reconsidered (and possibly expanded) to include other countries, including Pakistan.
The text of the order refers to 9/11 and the threat of “radical Islamic terrorists” as the basis for instituting the ban.
In an interview following the signing, Trump stated that the ban on refugees would not extend to Syrian Christians who are fleeing persecution. And while the ban does not call itself a “Muslim ban” its effect will be to ban non-citizen Muslims from the listed countries from traveling to the United States.
The day after Trump signed the Executive Order, visa and green card holders from the countries listed were already being stopped at US airports and in several cases pulled out of planes at other airports around the world as they attempted to travel to the United States.
US politicians opposing the ban appeared on various cable news channels, denouncing the action, noting that it had been instituted on Holocaust Memorial Day in the United States.
Prior to intervening in World War II, the United States turned away large numbers of Jewish refugees, many of whom were later killed in Hitler’s concentration camps. Syrian Muslim refugees are likely to face the same fate as they are sent back into the hands of Daesh and the Assad regime.
As for Pakistanis, although they have not – yet – been included on Trump’s list of seven countries, he has proposed “extreme vetting” for Pakistani visa applicants.
Even though the exact procedures that come under the extreme vetting label have not been explained, it is very likely that visa processing for Pakistani citizens wishing to travel to the United States will take longer than usual.
The fact that Pakistan is not included in the list does not preclude directives to consular officials to drastically reduce the number of visas issued to Pakistani citizens.
Another notable facet of the current ban is that it applies to all non-citizens from the countries stated. This means that even green card holders, known as “legal permanent residents” or “resident aliens” are also barred from returning to the United States.
Based on the above, Pakistani citizens who are legal permanent residents of US (green card holders) or hold other US non-immigrant visas must take seriously the possibility of an imminent ban on Pakistani citizens as well.
Pakistani citizens who are currently in the United States on F student visas, H-1B visas, J visas (usually issued to resident physicians and exchange programs) should not travel out of the United States for the next several months if they wish to return there.
Those who hold these visas and are currently in Pakistan and wish to return to the United States should perhaps return immediately.
Those Pakistanis who are legal permanent residents/US green card holders and wish to return and live in the United States must also return as soon as possible.
If the ban is extended to Pakistan, none of these categories of people (save US citizens) will be able to return to the United States.
Several lawsuits have been filed in the United States challenging the ban. Not only will it take a long time for the challenges to these bans to be adjudicated, it is also unlikely that the ban will be deemed unconstitutional.
This is because while religious tests and discrimination are not permitted under the United States Constitution, those constitutional protections do not apply to non-citizens or beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
Finally, US courts have already ruled that those denied visas do not have the right to appeal the denial in US courts.
For all of these reasons, all Pakistanis holding US green cards and non-immigrant visas should return to the United States without delay and if they are already there, refrain from traveling outside the country.
Update: The Department of Homeland Security has formally issued a notification that green card holders are exempt from the Executive Order.
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