WASHINGTON: The Trump administration is barring Iranian investors and business people from entering or staying in the United States on certain types of visas.

In new regulations published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security said Iranians and their families are no longer eligible to apply for or extend what are known as E-1 and E-2 visas. The ban will take effect on Thursday, according to the notice from US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Those visas allow foreign traders and substantial investors in US companies to live and work in the United States. CIS said the change is a result of the US withdrawal last year from a 1955 treaty with Iran that had sought to promote commercial and economic ties between the countries.

Iranians in the United States on the affected visas will be required to leave the country when their visas expire, it said, although the new regulation does not bar Iranians from applying for or extending other types of visas for which they are eligible.

The number of Iranians in the US on those types of visas was not immediately clear although it is believed to be relatively small. Out of more than 10 million US non-immigrant visas issued annually, only about 48,000 E-visas are issued to people of from all nations.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday his administration was preparing to add a “couple of countries” to the controversial list of states whose citizens are subject to travel bans or severe restrictions on entry to the United States.

“We are adding a couple of countries to it. We have to be safe. Our country has to be safe,” he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, adding that the names of the new countries would be announced “very shortly”.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that the administration planned to add seven countries including Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, and others in Africa and Asia.

It said the other nations being considered for new rules were Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan and Tanzania.

These countries would not necessarily face blanket bans on US travel but could see certain types of visas curtailed, the paper said, quoting administration officials.

Some of these countries could see their nationals barred from participating in a visa lottery programme, which Trump has repeatedly railed against, saying he would prefer a skilled immigration policy along the lines of the systems in Canada or Australia.

Unlike the nations covered by the current ban, most of these new additions do not have Muslim-majority populations.

The paper added that administration officials were still debating whether to include one or two of the countries, and the new list would be announced on Monday.

Trump repeatedly promised during his election campaign to implement a complete ban on Muslims entering the US, and announced his first package of travel bans and restrictions shortly after taking office in January 2017.

The move outraged critics and was struck down by a federal court which ruled it amounted to religious discrimination. The administration moved a second version of the policy in March 2017, which was struck down again for similar reasons.

But the third version of the policy was upheld by the US Supreme Court in June 2018 in a 5-4 ruling that affirmed the president had broad power to set immigration policy based on national security justifications.

The countries currently covered are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and North Korea, and political officials from Venezuela. The administration argued the inclusion of non-Muslim majority countries proved the policy was not driven by religious animus.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2020